A few weeks ago I wrote the title of this blog entry on a blackboard in a classroom. I was lecturing at Sonoma State University and trying to find a way to reach the students on the topic of sex worker rights. In the last few years I have noticed a huge shift in attitudes among the college aged regarding pornography.
Sometimes when I walk into a classroom early I will find the professor from the previous class handing out pornographic DVD’s like candy for kids. No one blushes about sex and video anymore. And surveys show a marked increase in the percentage of females who view porn. The women are still a little behind the men in this avocation but they won’t be for long. Pornography is fast becoming a standard form of entertainment for both genders.
And yet even with this new-found acceptance of sex for pay – and let’s face it that is exactly what the porn industry is – students still toe the party line on the topic of prostitution. In fact the anti-prostitution rhetoric is gaining momentum with buzzwords like trafficking which seem to arouse consternation in the most liberal thinkers. And that is the problem with the word “trafficking” – it bypasses thinking and aims itself at primal fears about “those other people” from “other countries” who kidnap our innocent youth and turn them into “sex slaves.”
Mind you I am not suggesting that these things don’t happen but so far very little proof has been produced to support the assertions that sex trafficking is the huge problem it is being touted to be. Instead most anti-trafficking efforts purporting to “rescue” sex workers from a fate worse than death are in fact simply harrassing immigrants.
For every heart breaking story about a true trafficking victim, there are hundreds of more mundane stories about coming to America or Europe to make big money but getting deported instead.
The trafficking debate reminds me of domestic violence. Having volunteered for a domestic violence shelter when I was in college, I am intimately acquainted with the very real problem of family violence. And yet as a society we don’t indict the idea of family because some people suffer violence in the home. Instead we look for ways to make families safer for all of us.
I long for the day when voters, lawmakers and social workers will see prostitution as a viable profession worthy of such an approach. It would be so much more productive to offer sex workers opportunities for empowerment, safety and worker rights. But right now the trafficking mentality would rather patronize immigrants by “rescuing” them – even if it means forcing them out of a trade they have freely chosen.
But back to that Sonoma State University classroom: I asked the students to list all the “bad” things they associate with porn and with prostitution. Both lists were fairly long and mostly redundant but prostitution came out as the greater societal evil. Porn has become acceptable to the masses and prostitution is not.
When I pressed the students for an explanation for this differential treatment they couldn’t produce one. In short order, they began to see the hypocrisy of considering one form of paid sex (the kind that puts billions of dollars into corporate pockets) as OK while the other kind of paid sex is still deemed responsible for the downfall of all that is good and right in the world (you know, family values, the sanctity of marriage and crime free neighborhoods).
But I wasn’t satisfied with this transformation, I wanted to go further. So I asked them if any of the arguments against either pornography or prostitution could be applied to marriage. In other words, could one make an equally valid argument against the institution of marriage using the same criteria used to discredit the sex industry?
And of course you can. Marriage creates even more violence and crime than either branch of the sex industry. People are killed every day because they had the misfortune to fall in love with someone with anger management and control issues.
No, I am NOT suggesting that we do away with marriage. I think that is a personal choice just like porn and prostitution. And I think there is a lot to recommend all three.
What I am suggesting is that it is time to sort out the salient issues and stop conflating what people do for love or money with the dysfunctional ways some people do life. Violence is a separate issue. It really doesn’t have anything to do with how you make a living or how you love.
Violence can take many forms and includes domestic violence, stalking, trafficking in any industry, kidnapping, etc. If we can stop with the smokescreens we might even be able to do something to reduce violence in its many forms.
Maybe you and your friends can have a similar discussion. Just make three lists of all the “bad” things you can associate with Porn, Prostitution and Marriage. You might find they have far more in common than you have been led to believe. And that alone might help shift our conversations about dysfunctional and abusive behavior to something more productive.