« Prostitution, a basis for inequality » by Géraldine Viredaz

The University of Lausanne (UNIL) recently hosted a conference on feminism in favour of abolition, at which prostitution was defined as a hard core of gender inequalities.

“Sexual intercourse in the absence of desire on the part of the woman”. That is how Patrizia Romito, professor at the University of Trieste, defines prostitution. On Friday, for the first time in the French speaking part of Switzerland, scholars, journalists and activists from different countries gathered in order to present a feminist analysis on abolitionism at the UNIL.

The lecturers all agreed that violence and inequality between men and women were core aspects of prostitution. They highlighted that the risk of mortality is 12% to 30% higher among women in prostitution, and spoke about the prevalence of a toxic psychological defence mechanism called “dissociation”. Anne Darbes, a transgender woman who describes herself as a prostitution survivor, was quite plain about it: “Intercourse hurts. You have to find ways to not feel anything”. Patrizia Romito added that “in order to protect themselves from suffering, prostitutes dissociate themselves mentally from their body and feelings, becoming mere witnesses of the scene. This causes intense psychological suffering”. Claudine Legardinier, a journalist and activist within the French “Mouvement du Nid” organization, described prostitution as “the hard core of unequal relations”. In her opinion, men who go for paid sex look for women who will be entirely at their disposal, whose will and desires do not matter. Kajsa Ekis Ekman, a Swedish journalist and activist, agreed: “prostitution is a world where men pay for the absence of desire, which is contrary to gender equality”. Prostitution was an element of systematic violence against women: “studies show that men who buy sex often display violent and abusive behaviour towards women”, explained Patrizia Romito.

At the other end of the feminist spectrum are “Pro-sex” and “anti-abolitionist” activists. In their view, paid sex is an expression of a women’s right over her own body. The issue was more about creating safe working conditions for those considered to be sex workers, and ending stigmatization. The discussion created a divide. To clarify their positions, the lecturers explained the arguments underpinning abolitionism, which considers that States should not support prostitution by regulating it as an ordinary job, and criminalize clients instead. “Abolitionism should not be mistaken with prohibition, which criminalizes the prostitutes”, added Véronique Mottier, professor at the UNIL. According to Kajsa Ekis Ekman, abolitionism works: “since the law is enforced, one in 13 men still pay for sex compared to one in eight before. In Germany, it’s one in four”. She highlighted the change in mentalities: “nowadays, if asked, Swedish men will tell you that prostitution is disgraceful”.

Would women in prostitution not be even more vulnerable in the absence of regulation? In response to this argument, which is frequently raised against abolitionism, Julie Bindel coldly recalled the “countless bodies found in places where prostitution has been regulated”. Regarding the “freedom to choose how to dispose of one’s body”, Patrizia Romito noted that the freedom to choose should be put in context: “what is the situation of those exercising this free choice? Most prostitutes live in dire poverty”. She highlighted that most prostitutes experience violence and abuse, and concluded that even if the choice to prostitute oneself is made freely, violence is still a fact. Glòria Casas Vila, the conference organizer and a doctor in Social Sciences, concluded the day by calling for a dialogue between feminists in favour of abolition and those in favour of regulation.

Géraldine Viredaz

Published in the independent Swiss newspaper “Le Courrier” on the 11th of July 2019. https://lecourrier.ch/

Version française : LeCourrier_JE-prost

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