October 5th is International Day of No Prostitution. In 2019 we are marking it by remembering the women who didn’t survive prostitution – including all the women whose disappearances and deaths were unmarked and unnoticed – as we resolve to not rest until the vicious system of prostitution is brought to an end.
Remembering the Void by Rebecca Mott
This is written to all the lost prostituted women, whether gone through death or disappearance. I write as one who was lucky enough to exit alive and relatively unscarred.
To write as an exited woman, is to be surrounded by ghosts and the knowledge of death being a norm. So if you choose to say “prostitution is just sex work,” never express that to exited women, most of whom have seen death in the raw, and know of many of our prostituted sisters who have been erased from existence.
To understand prostitution, we must look directly into this abyss and stop turning away from this genocide. Look with courage and fury into the void and show respect to our forgotten sisters by learning from their disappearances or deaths.
To start this journey, we must know and understand that the sex trade has had centuries to become experts at making the prostituted vanish.
The sex trade usually picks females they can easily isolate from family and friends. This may be because of previous abuse, because of being inside a natural or man-made disaster, or the isolation of poverty or racism. These are just the tips of the iceberg that isolates females.
An isolated female is easy to manipulate and gradually make into sexual goods. The main advantage of this isolation is that she becomes a non-human and from there it’s easy to turn her into sexual goods. Sexual goods that will be consumed and then thrown away.
This must be understood: that to be prostituted is to be made subhuman and throwaway. This cannot be stated enough, if we are to get hold of the scale of the deaths and disappearances of the prostituted.
It is claimed that at the minimum, prostituted women and girls are about 12 times more likely to die from male violence than other groups of females of a similar age and background. This will always be an estimate, for most disappearances or deaths of the prostituted are unrecorded.
When I was prostituted, it was common for punters to play at killing me – often saying:
“No-one will look for a dead whore.”
What other job is this normal in?
We get this message in all parts of the culture, such as the trope of murdering whores for crime novels, TV and film scripts. It is ingrained that the deaths or murders of the prostituted are so unimportant, that any serial killer will aim at the prostituted, knowing few will care.
The sex trade is expert at vanishing acts. Most of the disappeared prostituted females have been moved into other areas and more than likely more dangerous aspects of the sex trade. Internal or external trafficking are the main routes to control and silence the prostituted. Every prostitute lives with the threat of more sadism or death as their norm.
The sex trade has learnt over many centuries to clean up after punters kill the prostituted. These deaths are made invisible, for all that matters is more profit and making punters happy. The murdered prostituted are thrown away with no name, no past and no recognition that they were human.
So as we remember the deaths of murdered prostituted females, we will be surrounded by nameless and faceless ghosts crying out to be seen and known.
All the time there is moving remembrance of women murdered by male violence, especially domestic violence. But rarely does this include or even mention the silent genocide of the prostituted.
We let the sex trade win when we ignore these deaths and disappearances. We need to have memorials, marches, and constant reminders for those who lost their names and routes back to a non-prostituted life.
To end, something I wrote long ago:
To be murdered in prostitution is to go from being made sub-human in life to nothing in death.
All of the images in this article are photos of Crossbones Graveyard, an un-consecrated plot of ground a short walk from the Globe Theatre in Southwark, where ‘outcasts’ were buried from the 12th century until its closure in 1853. The graveyard’s other name, the ‘single woman’s graveyard,’ hints at who these outcasts were – women not under the patronage of a named man.
The centuries following the late medieval period were a time of brutal disruption for ordinary people as the communal subsistence economy was transformed into a wage-based monetary one. The disruption affected women quite differently from men. The work that women had traditionally done in having and raising children, maintaining (and often also making) the family’s clothing and home environment, growing, gathering or purchasing the family’s food and preparing it, etc. was now defined as non-work and was not remunerated. Men’s work on the other hand was defined as work and was remunerated. As a result, women as a group were systematically deprived of independent means of supporting themselves. This drove women into deeper economic dependence on men.
If they didn’t have a father or husband who could or would support them, many women had little choice but to turn to prostitution. This made them outcasts from mainstream society and defined them as unfit to be buried in consecrated land – while the men who bought them for sexual use were deemed upstanding citizens fit to be buried in the churchyard.
But the hypocrisy didn’t stop there. The brothels in Southwark were licensed for centuries by the Bishops of Winchester who grew rich on the proceeds – which means that the wealth of the Church of England is based in part at least on pimping women.
The development of capitalism was predicated on stripping women of their previous relative economic independence and forcing their dependence on men – either individual men in the family or the free-for-all of prostitution, while the men were given (almost absolute) power over women in return for compliance with their wage masters. This is what Carole Pateman calls the sexual contract and it is the bedrock of the capitalist system
Neither women’s poverty nor prostitution are inevitable. They are a direct result of the deliberate disenfranchisement of women in the system of patriarchy, which slowly morphed into capitalism and now the terrifying no-holds-barred neoliberal capitalism, which threatens to destroy the entire ecosystem on which we all depend.
Socialists and environmentalists are deluding themselves if they think we can create a better, more egalitarian and sustainable world while legitimising prostitution and enshrining in law men’s ‘right’ to buy sexual access to vulnerable women.
Crossbones Graveyard is now run by volunteers as a garden of remembrance. Women tie ribbons and mementos to the fence in remembrance of all the outcaste women who are buried there.
If you visit the garden and raise your eyes, you can see the Shard, that modern phallic monument to neoliberal folly and the brutal exploitation of women and colonised peoples everywhere.
Meme for International Day of No Prostitution 2019