Prostitution, power and knowledge

Sometimes what I read disturbs me so much that I don’t know what to write in response, even when I know that I must write to process it. It’s that way now; I’m literally shaking, though whether from anger or horror, I couldn’t tell you.

For the past hour, I’ve been researching prostitution and pornography. My second novel (for which I just finished the first draft) deals with a young woman who had been a prostitute as a teenager, and who struggles to overcome her past. As usual, I didn’t do much research for the first draft—I find it hampering when I’m trying to find the story—though I did know a little bit about it from some research I did in college. So now I’m trying to check my facts, see which intuitive choices in writing were correct, and add to my general knowledge. And what I’ve found so disturbs me that I must write about it. Here’s just a few things I learned.

“Anyone who thinks prostitution is a victimless crime, hasn’t seen it up close.” –old cop saying, quoted by Joe Parker

Back in college, I met a fellow student who claimed to have been a stripper for a while. She told all of our newspaper staff that she felt so “empowered” by her decision to work as a dancer at a strip club. I don’t know if she was still working there at the time, but her use of the word “empower” has always stuck in my mind. It struck me as wrong: demeaning would’ve been my word pick, or degrading or disgusting.

Now I think the “power” part of it was correct. Stripping, like porn and prostitution, is about power, only it isn’t the stripper who is empowered. It’s not an equal exchange, one person giving (or being forced to give) her body to another in exchange for money (which that person may or may not get). It’s not equal at all, even if the exchange is “consensual”.

“In criminal language, ‘She loves me’ means ‘I can control her.’” –Joe Parker, “How Prostitution Works”, on

 Consensual: which, the majority of times, it is not. From my research, I’ve learned that most prostitutes are forced into it through repeated rapes, beatings, abuse of every kind, both physical and emotional. And once the victim is broken, with nowhere to turn for help, she feels that to survive means she must do what she is told to do: that there’s no choice but to do what the pimp tells her to do. The prostitute is at the mercy of the pimp and the johns.

 “The victim who is able to articulate the situation of the victim has ceased to be a victim: she has become a threat.” –James Baldwin

And who feels most threatened? Those who stand to profit from prostitution. On, one prostitution survivor recounts how she has been repeatedly threatened by the leaders of “sex worker rights groups” (who are pimps, their self-portrayal as sex workers aside). They use hate mail, social media, you name it, to try to silence those vocal about the abuse that is the sex industry. These are the people who push to legalize prostitution, who claim that porn/stripping/prostitution is empowering for women, and who profit from all of the above.

The things I read are hard to read. It would be easy to shut down the computer, close the book, avert my face. But I can’t do that. Once we have knowledge, we are responsible for how we act or don’t act on it. Those of us who care that this atrocity is happening must act. We can’t afford to stay silent.


10 thoughts on “Prostitution, power and knowledge

  1. There’s one of those sex-worker rights groups in San Francisco, and every so often they make the news again. It’s always about how the law needs to catch up to reality, that women should be allowed to use their bodies as they choose. As if sex trafficking is a choice!

    Good job bringing this forward today, Laura.



      1. Read through your tweet!
        So true. I’ve read dozens of human trafficking books and have known people who work in strip clubs (not as the strippers, but as bar tenders there) and have enjoyed learning much through Shelly Lubben, former prostitute/stripper/porn star turned Christian.
        You did a great job in this post!! There is no stripper or prostitute who has been free of abuse, from what I can tell.


      2. Thank you for reading, Victoria. I think I’ve heard Shelly Lubben’s name before, and I’m going to look her up. I’m still only beginning to scratch the surface of how evil trafficking is, and I still have a lot to learn.


    1. That was one of the things that absolutely astounded me: “sex worker rights groups”. I’d never heard of or imagined such a group/groups existed. I guess that just goes to show how naive I am. Thanks so much for reading and tweeting this, too!


  2. In England, we don’t really have those bars where girls dance semi-undressed in front of boozing customers, though there are a few dotted around here and there and in Soho in London, but prostitution seems rife in some areas. Most prostitutes here are simply trying to to escape poverty, and of course it is then an ever downward spiral. We men have to stop seeing women as sex objects, and we have to challenge this culture which cheapens everything and says that whatever you want you can have, providing you have the money, and a lack of conscience. I have learnt to be celibate as a Christian, I would never go to a prostitute as I would never inject heroin. Being obedient to God’s will means we learn even the hard way that such things do not empower, they imprison.


    1. Thanks for weighing in on this topic, Tim. I always appreciate the perspective from “across the pond”, as I know little about what the current state of England is like. Loved your last words about these things imprisoning rather than empowering; so, so true!


  3. What if prostitution was legal? Not right, but free of the black market? Wouldn’t it change a lot of things? Legalizing marijuana gets the bad guys out of the loop, so it might make sense to take the bad guys out of the loop in sex for pay, too. And maybe it encourages women’s rights: the right to say no, and conversely, the right to step up be a madam. “Just sayin”.


    1. I’m not sure if it would make a difference or not. I recently read a memoir by a former prostitute; she was based in some country that had legalized prostitution. She was a heroin addict who used prostitution to fund her addiction. While she seemed to feel that she learned a lot about herself during this time, there still seemed to be a dangerous/imbalanced power dynamic between the brothel madams, the working girls, and the johns. It was still an unequal transaction between the prostitutes and their “clients”, and even within a brothel setting, the men could be dangerous and violent (though not always). Anyway, at any rate, this writer was at the mercy of both her heroin addiction and her clients. It was an interesting read (though too explicit at points), and it’s worth noting that she chose to become a prostitute. Many don’t.

      I also don’t know if something like prostitution can ever be totally free of the black market, considering the propensity of humans for evil.


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