Ending Entitlement to Female and Feminized Bodies is Central to Women’s Liberation

AF3IRM Purple Rose Campaign and AF3IRM International Department
Contact: Connie Huynh
[email protected]

We of AF3IRM, a multi-ethnic organization of primarily women of color engaged in transnational feminism, view with extreme alarm the on-going disinformation regarding the sex trade.  One of the most grievous of such disinformation is that pimps, traffickers, recruiters, brothel keepers, and those who comprise “management” should have equal rights and protections as those who are bought and sold.  The other is that industrializing the sex trade by having it run as legal corporations would protect the welfare of the bought and sold. Those of us who depend on corporations for our living fully understand why Noam Chomsky called corporations “the most tyrannical invention of humankind.”  

Because we are one with Condorcet’s declaration that “the word ‘revolutionary’ can be applied only to revolutions whose aim is freedom,” we anchor our advocacy regarding the sex trade on the right not to be in sex trade and the right to exit —basic rights often denied to the female and feminized, whether it is to leave an unpleasant set of circumstances or a dangerous and/or morbid situation, or a systemic structure that dehumanizes.  Any action placing these rights at risk, we find abhorrent, destructive of women’s empowerment, detrimental to the struggle for women’s liberation, and must be opposed firmly and unequivocally.

The right of refusal and the right to exit have exploded, time and again, in secession, revolts, uprising, insurrections and revolutions.  These have been enshrined as a collective right of humanity. But these are steadfastly denied to those at the lowest rung of the power ladder of the sex trade.  Instead, what is being deceitfully presented as empowerment is the continued male privilege of sexual access to the bodies of the young, the poor, the powerless, the female and feminized, and bodies mostly of color.    

Is it work?  

The corporatized advocates of legalization of the sex trade present prostitution as work for the prostituted even as they demand that such “worker’s rights” be extended to those who are “management” and “capitalists”. Such an ahistorical concept of “work” is by itself an insult to the working class, which has had to conduct a continuous battle against management and Capital, to even secure a just wage, much less safe working conditions.  The undefined term “sex work” is used to include even those who do not actually lay their bodies on the line. Instead, the discourse has been warped into a distinction between willful and coerced prostitution, setting up an artificial distinction between sex trafficking and “sex work,” characterizing the latter as “consensual,” despite the vast amount of research showing that the majority who enter the sex trade decide to do so for lack of options.   And furthermore, desire to leave it.

We in AF3IRM make a distinction between choice and decision, as the latter can and often does emanate from a lack of options.   Physical force, often cited in the repulsion toward sex trafficking, and force by circumstance act on the human psyche with equal damage and equal compulsion.  We understand this as psychological abuse in domestic violence situations. Poverty per se is psychological abuse; inescapable poverty as a reason to enter the sex trade is as violent as abduction and coercion by pimps.  To fully appreciate the deviousness of the practice and how it has survived through eons, we must learn to view holistically the interaction of gender and class, and in modern times, of race, in the creation of a seemingly endless supply of the female and the feminized for commercial sex exploitation.  

It is work, we are told, and we say that expending “labor” is but one aspect of the transactional identity of the bought and sold in the sex trade.  As prostitution is a nodal point of gender, race and class exploitation and subjugation, it is also a node crystallizing the process of profit generation, whereby the human body becomes labor, commodity and factory all in one.  As this process was imposed on the land, waters and natural resources of the native, the indigenous and the aboriginal, so did Capital impose this on the bodies of the native, the indigenous and the aboriginal, under the profanities of colonialism and imperialism.  The question then of whether this is work or not is a fallacy; the more significant question is whether, in this era wherein practically everyone is struggling to survive in a situation of untrammeled Capital rapacity, this practice of morphing the human body itself into both commodity and factory to satisfy an artificial demand so that profit may be generated, should be formally institutionalized, legalized, and moreover, industrialized.  In other words, is the sex trade necessary even, at all?  

Factory is not an exaggerated term.  In countries where prostitution has been legalized, women in brothel houses are expected to “service” an assembly line of ten to thirty “customers” per day.  One has only to look at Germany to see that even the most advanced capitalist countries, with their huge surplus wealth, are unable to make this “work” even superficially beneficial to women.  The rate of exploitation increases ten times when one goes to countries like Bangladesh where the younger the female, the higher the price, very little of which goes to the teenager or young woman.   

The Right To Exit 

Any serious intent to ensure security and safety for those who are in the sex trade must guarantee their Right to Exit and to remain Exited. We seek:

  1.  Decriminalization of those who are prostituted;
    • No arrests
    • Expunged all records of arrests
    • Treatment of those who are bought and sold as survivors, not criminals
    • Protection from violence emanating from the police, the pimps, and the johns.
    • It is just and right to decriminalize those whose bodies are virtual “factory sites” for the generation of profit. Not only should they be protected from arrest, harassment and violence but all arrest records related to their participation in the sex trade should be expunged. Such arrest records are legal stigmatization – an undeserved burden carried throughout life even by those who are most often exploited, coerced, the “groomed” and the compelled by circumstance. Such stigmatization punishes even minors who “age to maturity” in the sex trade, with little or no options for survival.
  2. Full-bore community-based programs to enable the exited to access safe housing, work and job training, health and mental health services, as well as livelihood support in the period of transition out of the trade; and
  3. Such programs should also integrate an understanding of gender-based violence, domestic violence, and rape culture.

The Right Not To Be Prostituted

The Right to Exit has its corollary in The Right Not To be Prostituted.  For this, we call for the integration of programs against trafficking, particularly in high schools and community colleges where recruiters roam school grounds, some masquerading as “lover boys,” to take advantage of the sense of alienation of the young from a world hostile indeed to the female and feminized.  Such programs must discuss patriarchy, whose bedrock remains the male right of sexual access by virtue of some advantage – whether more money, more years, more power, or greater ability to deceive – on the bodies of the female and feminized, the poor, powerless and vulnerable. The on-going Epstein case should make us attuned to this constant reality.   And that it’s a constant scammer’s reality.

We in AF3IRM know of the prison-to-prostitution pipeline and vice-versa.  We prefer, by and large, community-based measures and regulations to keep the tentacles of sexual corporatization out of our neighborhoods and out of our personal and intimate relationships.  That Capital uses the latter to recruit the labor-commodity-factory of the sex trade, especially from neighborhoods of (im)migrants and of color, creates the question of how to protect the young and unworldly, with transformational justice and with minimum recourse to imprisonment.  We would approve of the latter only in cases of persistent and/or violent traffickers, pimps, customers, brothel and motel owners. This is in pursuit of safety for the female and the feminized.  

Our intent is to encourage Trafficking-Free Zones as a principal deterrent to the persistence and growth of the sex trade.  

To Sum Up

  1.  AF3IRM opposes the full and general legalization and full and general decriminalization of the sex trade.  
  2.  AF3IRM supports the decriminalization of the bought and sold.  Pimping, trafficking, brothel-keeping, and the buying of sex should remain anathematized, as these are the agencies of exploitation.
  3. AF3IRM prefers community-based measures and the establishment of Trafficking-Free Zones to end the practice of grooming and recruitment of minors, young women and migrants into the sex trade.
  4. AF3IRM condemns any system of exploitation specifically targeting women of color and (im)migrant women.   
  5. AF3IRM’s strategic objective in its Purple Rose Campaign is to reject the male self-entitlement to sexual access and control, on the basis of an advantage of wealth, power, strength and/or deception ability, to the bodies of the female and feminized, of the young and vulnerable, of the poor and the powerless.  

It’s 2019.  How much longer should the female and feminized endure the impositions of Patriarchy and Capital? Women’s liberation now!