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, where a Nordic Model-style law is making its way through the legislative process. The Knesset (the legislative branch of the Israeli government) approved the law on its first reading on 22 October 2018. The second and third readings are still ahead.

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, 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.

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