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“The truth is, there was no ‘work’ involved in what was done to us in prostitution. Prostitution is neither sex nor work. Sex does not just involve mutuality; it necessitates it. The sex of prostitution is devoid of mutuality, and cash is introduced to fill the breach. In prostitution, the cash is the coercive force, the evidence of the coercion, and the great silencer all at the same time. What right to complaint is a woman seen to have when she’s been compensated for her own violation?

How is it that so many people fool themselves into believing the bodies of prostituted women function differently to everyone else’s?

During my last 10 years campaigning, I have sometimes been asked by women what prostitution ‘feels like’. I hit on a way of explaining this some years ago, and have repeated it a few times since. I invite them, the next time they are in a café or a bar, to take a look around at the male patrons. Old, young, fat, thin, tall, short, handsome, ugly, beautiful, repulsive – and imagine that they are obliged to have sex with them. All of them. The women’s faces turn to horror because they don’t need to imagine; they know full well that they’d have no interest in sleeping with whoever happens to walk through the door.

At the most basic level, having our personal space breached by a stranger causes a stress reaction. Given that everybody knows this, and everyone who experiences it reacts to it on an instinctive level, how is it that so many people fool themselves into believing the bodies of prostituted women function differently to everyone else’s? Why is it that there is a subset of women who are thought to behave like nonhumans, who have no sense of personal boundaries, no anxiety reaction, no disgust response? I sometimes wonder whether, because prostitution is understood as alien behaviour, the prostituted have alien attributes assigned to them – a nonhuman propensity not to think, sense, feel and experience.

Much of what we know about humans is dispensed with in conversations about prostitution. Why is it that money’s peculiar power of transmutation operates only when sexual access is for sale? Cash is not seen to have this magical quality in the sweatshops of the developing world or the makeshift operating theatres where kidneys are removed. Sweatshops are not considered viable workplaces, although clothing manufacture is not in question as viable employment. It is the treatment of people in sweatshops that renders clothing manufacture unviable employment. We understand, in all areas but one, that money can’t buy permission or a pass on human rights.

This fiction ignores how incongruent prostitution is when measured against any profession one can think of.

The treatment of women in prostitution is not comparable with the treatment of people in sweatshops in one very important respect – because prostitution is not comparable with clothing manufacture. Sweatshops constitute a deviation in the general area of clothing production; a mode of manufacture so lacking in basic workers’ rights as to constitute human rights violations. Prostitution, in contrast, strips the individual of dignity, and does so in all of its manifestations, because it does so at its core. This is because, in prostitution, the site of violation is the body itself.”

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