Sex Work is Not Work, It’s Oppression

Cik Nur Farihah Meor Mazli Health Islamic Family Law Legal and Human Rights Religious Rights Statements

On 27 March 2021, Dr Madeline Berma made a statement on her Facebook page (which has since been deleted), which detailed her paper on the ‘Human Rights of Sex Workers in Malaysia’. It is appalling that a commissioner for human rights in Malaysia has fallen hook, line and sinker for the deception created by the multi-billion-dollar sexual exploitation industry which was built upon the backs of the bodies of real women and girls who have been raped, assaulted, trafficked and murdered. Let us be frank here. Even the term ‘sex worker’ is one which has been created and popularised to lend some sort of euphemistic ‘dignity’ and the illusion of choice to prostitution and other forms of sex work including that of pornography. This is a powerful industry with much to lose should human beings come to their senses and no longer patron or service its existence.

The reality is that ‘sex work’ is not work like ‘any other job’. Escaped prostitutes’ testimonies fuel many women’s organizations to try to help women out of prostitution across the globe. Many women are driven by poverty, criminally trapped or even trafficked into it. They are often unable to exit, hardly an occupation made by free will or choice. Melissa Farley, a clinical psychologist who has worked in this field for 25 years, reports in the Journal of Trauma Practice that 70% of prostituted women had a history of childhood abuse which led to their entry into prostitution. There is actually a continuum of child abuse, incest and poverty leading to violence in prostitution which needs to be acknowledged. It is well-known in the industry that incest is the ‘training ground’ or ‘bootcamp’ for prostitution, making young children and teenagers extremely vulnerable.

This is an ‘occupation’ which allows men to buy access to women’s bodies. Upon entering prostitution, it is immediately clear that there is no respect for human rights or physical boundaries. Why? As soon as a ‘client’ (sometimes called a ‘john’) buys access, he often demands more than what was agreed on. If a prostituted woman tries to enforce the terms of the ‘purchase’, more often than not violence ensues and it is common for prostituted women to be raped, kicked, hit, pushed, pulled, choked, spit on, have their hair torn out or have things thrown at them. Not to mention being humiliated verbally and psychologically by name-calling, insults, humiliations, threats and intimidation. This is clearly not a ‘job like any other’ and it is imperative that we resist any attempts to portray it as such. Even if we take away the moral aspect of it all, and momentarily disregard the enormous health consequences both mental and physical, this is a ‘job’ where the client’s sense of entitlement to sex takes precedence over the well being of the women they buy. The illusion of the ‘happy hooker’ is a complete lie. It is mind-boggling to think that any kind of human rights can be enforced upon this situation. This profession needs to be abolished, exit strategies formulated for those within it, and clients need to be severely punished as a form of prevention.

Even the sex industry itself knows that this violence occurs. A pro-sex worker group in South Africa actually advises prostitutes to check their clients for knives, handcuffs, rope and even pillows as potential murder weapons. They are told not to use handbags with long straps which can be used by clients as weapons for strangulation. Other groups promote crisis management techniques used in hostage situations so that prostituted women learn how to ‘negotiate’ with the buyer for their own safety. In what way does this have any resemblance to ‘normal employment’? Clearly ‘sex work’ is NOT ‘work’. It is oppression.

We should also reflect that in today’s world, the sheer volume of pornography being trafficked is staggering, with more visitors each month than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined. In the US alone, the porn industry which also falls under the definition of ‘sex work’, makes more money than Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA combined. That contributes to a global revenue exceeding $100 billion per year. Additionally, the type of pornography available now is no longer simply topless photographs on page 3 of a tabloid. It now commonly involves sexual assault, rape, violence and pedophilia as porn users search desperately for a dopamine fix which can no longer be achieved due to their self-inflicted desensitization. Given these dismal numbers and facts, there is no reason at all to believe that prostitution can in any way be ‘regulated’ where ‘rights of workers are enforced’.

Those clamoring for the decriminalization of protitution must not be given any latitude, as this will send a message to men that the purchasing of women’s bodies is sanctioned and legitimate. Countries where prostitution is legal have not solved any of these problems. The most famous of them all, the Netherlands, is no exception. Job Cohen, the former mayor of Amsterdam said, in a report by the New York Times on 24 February 2008 (well before the popularization of pornography tube sites), that this business is out of control: “We’ve realized this is no longer about small-scale entrepreneurs, but those big crime organizations are involved here in trafficking women, drugs, killings, and other criminal activities”. The report also states that “in some ways, city officials concede they are having to deal with problems created by the Netherlands’ own lenient policies. A parliamentary inquiry, criminologists and prostitutes’ support groups have warned in recent years that prostitution and the permissive marijuana trade were increasingly a magnet for international organized crime.” Mr. Cohen recalled that in 2000, the Dutch legalized prostitution, intending to make the sex trade more transparent and protect women by giving them work permits. “We realize that this hasn’t worked, that trafficking in women continues,” he said. “Women are now moved around more, making police work more difficult.”

In 1997, the United Nation’s International Labour Organization (ILO) examined the rapid growth of prostitution in Southeast Asia and concluded that it has serious implications relating to public morality, social welfare, transmission of HIV/AIDS, criminality and sexual exploitation of children. Two decades later, the same ILO reported that 99% of victims in the commercial sex industry are women and girls, who are disproportionately affected by forced labour. This is how sex-work or prostitution has become one of the major forms of unskilled labour which provides earnings for women in communities coping with poverty or unemployment.

Ironically, instead of shutting the doors to prostitution of women and children, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), violence and abuse by clients and harsh legal repercussions, sex workers’ supporters instead decided to give leeway to the massive sex industry in the name of ‘human rights’. The wilful ignorance to the cruel reality of the growing global sex trade is just utterly insane, not to mention in complete contradiction to our religion, morals and way of life. Moreover, it is shocking to witness the sheer hypocrisy and deafening silence of feminists and other women’s organizations regarding this industry which clearly only rewards capitalistic and depraved men.

We advise everyone to respect our country’s laws, in particular Section 372 of the Penal Code and the various provisions for Muslims in the Syariah Criminal Offences Acts or Enactments. We reiterate that all forms of ‘sex work’ ranging from prostitution to pornography and everything in between need to be abolished, exit strategies formulated for those within it, and clients who patron them need to be severely punished as a form of prevention.

Nur Farihah Meor Mazli
Youth & Media Exco,
International Women’s Alliance for Family Institution & Quality Education WAFIQ

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