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 prostitutionresearch.com
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 prostitutionresearch.com, 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.