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Woman: human being or profit centre?

Socialists should not support the decriminalisation of prostitution – an institution of oppression that has been used for centuries to ensure the subordination of women and the division of the working class, writes ANNA FISHER

MOST readers of this paper are familiar with Momentum.

Many are probably members and, even if you’re not, you’re likely to share its stated aims of redistributing wealth to properly fund public services and infrastructure and striving for equality and empowerment for the many rather than the few.

If so, you may be wondering how those aims square with a tweet that Momentum put out on Monday boasting of signing up to the DecrimNow campaign to fight against attempts by a Labour woman MP to introduce the Nordic Model approach to prostitution in Britain. 

The Nordic Model approach decriminalises those who are prostituted and provides them with support, genuine alternatives and routes out.

It also cracks down on pimps and traffickers, and makes buying sex a criminal offence — with the key aim of changing men’s attitudes.

This approach is founded in the socialist feminist understanding of prostitution as an institution of oppression that has been used for centuries by the capitalist system to co-opt men, and to ensure the subordination of women and the division of the working class. 

More recently women have become the locus of wealth extraction as the global capitalists have turned to mining women and girls’ bodies for the primitive accumulation of capital through the industrialisation of prostitution, porn, egg harvesting and surrogacy. 

The global capitalists have been so successful in selling the sexual use and abuse of women and girls as entertainment to ordinary men that the global sex industry makes profits so huge that even Amazon’s seem like small change in comparison.

However, the Nordic Model was not developed simply from theory. Rather it came out of practical research.

Feminists in Sweden conducted large-scale research on prostitution — talking extensively to people both selling and buying sex.

The women selling sex told of their paths into prostitution, about the men who bought them, about their relationships with pimps and drugs, about how prostitution affected them and the violence and shame they experienced, and about their survival strategies.

What the researchers found was that prostitution is an extreme, concentrated version of the general relationship between the sexes.

It therefore makes no sense to punish the women — because their choices are limited and getting out of prostitution once embedded in it is hard, and sometimes impossible.

It became clear to the researchers that prostitution exists because men buy sex.

So, if they were to reduce prostitution (and the trafficking and misery associated with it), they realised they must challenge men to change their belief that they have the right to buy sex from another human being.

And that’s the whole point of the law. Just as the law against smoking in pubs is not about demonising or criminalising smokers — it is primarily about changing attitudes and behaviour.

The approach was first introduced in Sweden in 1999 and since then a number of other countries have followed suit. Each country has framed the law slightly differently and with different degrees of commitment and success. 

There have been endless attempts to sabotage it — mostly because men, including so-called socialist men, do not want to give up the right granted them by the capitalist elites to sexual access to their more unfortunate sisters — and many women resist seeing the reality of a system that defines themselves as not quite human, as commodities for men’s use and abuse.

The Momentum tweet says, “The evidence shows that criminalising those who pay for sex only puts sex workers in more danger. Proud to have put our name to this important campaign.” 

How can they be so naive? 

I am sure that the Tories can produce “evidence” that shows that privatising the NHS is better for everyone and that the original socialist model puts people in “danger.”

There’s a long and shameful history of academics and NGOs being bought.

Rather than relying on dodgy “evidence,” we need to consider, what are the alternatives?

A free-for-all for pimps and traffickers, the ever-greater brutalisation of ordinary people, the neoliberal elite scooping up ever more wealth from the suffering of women and children.

That’s the choice we’re looking at.

The DecrimNow open letter says: “Trafficking isn’t caused by the demand for sex, but by people’s poverty and lack of options: people are made vulnerable to traffickers for a number of reasons.” 

Sex trafficking is hugely more lucrative than any other form of human trafficking — 10 times more lucrative according to a recent study — precisely because so many men are prepared to pay for sexual access to vulnerable women and girls.

To suggest that the desire to cash in on this bonanza is not a cause of sex trafficking is disingenuous, bonkers even.

Yes, poverty and brutal immigration laws cause large numbers of people, particularly women and children, to be trapped in situations where they are vulnerable to traffickers who want to use them as a meal ticket.

But they wouldn’t be such a great meal ticket if large numbers of men weren’t such enthusiastic prostitution users. 

The solution to poverty and brutal immigration laws is not opening up prostitution but tackling these inequities head on.

The open letter’s aspiration to make “sex workers” safe is an oxymoron.

Prostitution in all its forms is inherently dangerous and can never be brought into line with even the most basic health and safety guidelines

We need to reduce the size of the prostitution system, while providing those caught up in it with a viable transition out.

This is exactly what the Nordic Model aims to do — and can do when implemented properly and with solid support from the working class.

Men, you need to face up to the unsavoury truth that the capitalist system constantly attempts to buy you off with power over women and children, including the power to buy sexual access to them. When you succumb to this, you sabotage the socialist resistance. 

Women are human too.

Anna Fisher is the current chair of Nordic Model Now!

You can write to your MP asking them to support the Nordic Model using our two-minute tool: www.nmnow.org/support_women.

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