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Lies About Prostitution - 5) Prostitutes Want to Be Rescued

Sex workers do not want to be rescued by men marrying them, or by religious conservatives and radical feminists giving them a choice between jail and exploitative jobs

Sex workers carrying a banner in a demonstration.
Shutterstock ID 158018366

Knight in shining armor wants to marry a prostitute

One popular myth, found in songs, novels and movies, is that of the lucky prostitute who gets rescued from her horrible job by a man who marries her.

As the story goes, the ex-prostitute is forever indebted to her rescuer. She was forced into prostitution by the unfortunate circumstances of life. She was miserable doing it. The rescuer is a generous man, selfless enough to overlook the degraded state of the prostitute. He is so loving, smart and dedicated that is able to “clean her up” and elevate her back to the status of a “normal” woman.

This narrative is just another version of the classist theme of the wealthy man who gets to pick the poor but pretty woman and mold her to his wishes, because she is forever grateful that he has raised her to his high social status. Which, in turn, is subtly misogynistic in that the man is wealthy and powerful, and the woman is powerless except for her sex appeal.

It’s the plot of the movie Pretty Woman and many similar stories since antiquity. Another example is the song Roxanne by The Police.

However, the reality is quite different.

Most prostitutes do not want to be rescued. Least of all by some random loser who looks down on her and thinks he is doing her a favor. He’s probably the one who needs to be rescued.

The prostitute has chosen her job for good reasons. She doesn’t need anybody to take that choice away for her.

Maybe she already has a husband or a romantic partner, and going into sex work was a joined decision (I personally know two cases).

Maybe she is raising a child.

Maybe she has just found her way out of an abusive relationship, and the last thing she wants is to get into another.

Indeed, some of these would-be rescuers are men who see a disempowered woman who they can easily control.

The State comes to the rescue by offering exploitative jobs

But sometimes the abuser is not a man who wants to marry the prostitute, but a high-minded ideologue who knows what is best for her, either a religious conservative or a radical feminist.

Ideologues are not interested in the prostitute as a person, but in prostitution as an abstraction. They see it as a blight that needs to be scoured from society. And they intend to use the policing powers of the State to do that. Never mind the interests and the well-being of the prostitute.

This doesn’t surprise anybody. It has been going on for centuries. It’s just an extension of the religious sexual repression of the Middle Ages.

Just like the abuser who hides his desire for control behind the idea that he is doing the prostitute a favor, anti-prostitution ideologues want to rescue prostitutes without asking them first. They assume that they want to be rescued, because surely anybody would want to get out of such an exploitative and degrading job, wouldn’t they?

They want to take them out of their sex jobs - using the police if necessary - to offer them “honest” jobs. Like, for example, sweeping floors, or sewing for some huge apparel corporation. Jobs that are suitable for women in their social class. Because, please, let’s not pretend that prostitutes have the same social stature as the radical feminists who get to decide their future. After all, these feminists have gone to college and now hold tenured positions in Gender Studies at a university, or work in a law firm, or have gone into politics and gotten powerful government positions.

Rescuers want to disempower sex workers and steal their voices

Prostitutes beg to disagree with all these rescuing schemes.

They have been trying with all their might to make their voices heard. Like any worker, they have been organizing in associations and unions to fight for their rights, like COYOTE in the United States.

The Global Network of Sex Work Projects provides a list of such groups worldwide.

However, like any other abuser, anti-prostitution ideologues are keen on disempowering their victims and stealing their voices.

For example, in Spain, prostitutes tried to organize a series of talks in universities about their problems, only to be massively canceled by radical feminists. The union OTRAS was persecuted by the Spanish government led by the socialist party PSOE. After a fight, it finally had its statutes legalized by the Spanish Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the PSOE has declared its intentions to persecute prostitution in Spain in its electoral program.

Of course, the situation in the USA is much worse. Prostitution is still a crime persecuted by the police using all kind of entrapment methods. FOSTA-SESTA legislation - co-sponsored by politicians of both the Republican and Democratic parties - played on the deliberate confusion of prostitution with sex traffic, banning sex workers from the internet and making illegal many of the things that they did to protect themselves.

Prostitutes do not need to be rescued.

What they need is the State to stop treating their work as a crime.

They need to have the same rights as any other citizen.

They need to have the same protections against exploitation as any other worker.

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