Can the preconditions for true consent ever exist in prostitution?

By Dana Levy

Dana is a survivor of the sex industry who supports and promotes the Nordic Model in Israel. When she wrote this article a Nordic Model-style law was making its way through the legislative process. Since then, Israel became the eighth country in the world to implement Nordic Model legislation.

The upcoming law prohibiting the purchase of sexual services has given rise to heated public debate and controversy in Israel. Opposers of the law claim that it stems from a patronizing approach that forces the legislators’ and feminist pressure groups’ worldview on the individual, and it involves disproportionate interference in consensual relations between adults. This is a common misconception, infused by the centuries-old normalization of the so-called ‘sex industry.’

The time has come to discuss this misconception and explain why paying for sex in every shape and form can never be ‘consensual relations’ but is rather a type of sexual violence that the public has yet to recognize as such.

The law and public discourse in Israel are accustomed to the notion that sexual violence has many facets, and that the term ‘rape’ describes an action done without the other person’s freely-given consent – and while they are not necessarily expressing strong noticeable opposition.

Consent relies on three conditions: the freedom to choose a sexual partner, the freedom to choose the nature of relations, and the freedom to choose the timing. If any one of these conditions is impaired, the sexual relations should be considered forced – for example, when someone forces their regular partner or spouse to have sex at a time or in a way they do not want.

In the context of prostitution, none of those three conditions can be completely met. Women in prostitution do not choose their clients (except in anecdotal blog stories); they do not choose the timing; and, in most cases, they have hardly any freedom to determine the nature of the acts performed.

Forced sex, even in cases that include some version of consent, is obviously traumatic to those involved. Most of us intuitively understand that when one’s livelihood and economic survival are dependent on having sex with partners who were not chosen, in a timing and manner that were also not chosen, it can be mentally and emotionally damaging.

For those who struggle with understanding this concept’s relevance to prostitution, imagine an employee having sexual relations with their boss under the threat of being fired, a practice parallel by all means to prostitution. Here too there is some type of consent, but it is forced out by the threat of loss of income. In such a case, both the general public and the law mostly agree on the act’s nature and severity.

Now, we must take another leap of consciousness and apply the recognition of such abuse of power to those caught in the vicious cycle of prostitution.

Women celebrating the Knesset approving the first reading of the law on 22 October 2018.

3 thoughts on “Can the preconditions for true consent ever exist in prostitution?

  1. Hello, sex worker client here. During a visit to a Dutch “privehuis” in 2018, the sex worker:
    – Instructed me to wash with soap and water
    – Insisted on a condom before I touched her
    – Explained to me what was off-limits and what services could be purchased for an additional fee.
    Her body, her rules. It was quite plain that if I violated any of these, I would be shown the door in jig time.

    I do not deny the author’s trauma or pain and suffering. I acknowledge the victimization and oppression of women by men. But the statement about consent concerns some sex workers – not all of them. Decriminalizing sex work does not negate any laws against rape or sex trafficking.

    Numerous sex workers have given me positive feedback with their words and hugs and are happy to see me a second or third time. It’s because I listened to their rules about respect and hygiene, and I comported myself in a manner that helped them feel safe. I do not deserve to be criminalized.

    1. While we appreciate your honesty, we believe you are in utter denial of the reality and the harms that prostitution causes women and girls. They HAVE to pretend they are enjoying it – that’s part of the deal.

      We suggest you read some of the many first-person accounts on this website from women who’ve been there.

      The whole point of the Nordic Model is to make it clear that buying sexual access to another human being IS damaging and therefore to change men’s behaviour – rather than putting you in prison.

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