The Law of Diminishing Returns

By Esther

The critique by the French NGO, Amicale du Nid, of the 2018 study by Médecins du Monde about the operation of the Nordic Model-style law passed by the French National Assembly in April 2016 resonated with me in questioning the evidence the study provided in trying to establish a causal link between the introduction of the prohibition of the purchase of sex and a decrease in the number of clients and resulting reduced income for prostituted women.

A much more significant factor in the reduced income prostituted women receive is the increase in the number of women entering the sex industry, whether through what they perceive as “choice” or through coercion and trafficking.

I have been aware of this in the UK for many years, both from my own experience, speaking to other women who are, or have been involved with prostitution, and from press and journal articles about the reduced remuneration levels prostituted women have been receiving since more women became involved in the sex trade following the banking crisis from 2008 and the implementation of “austerity” policies by governments in the wake of it.

Likely earnings from prostitution are consistently misrepresented. Big claims made about the level of remuneration available in the sex trade exaggerate the net income once the many outgoings have been met. People who make these claims also fail to mention the connection between involvement in the porn industry and higher levels of remuneration from men who will pay to have someone who has been involved in porn be a notch on their bedpost, Donald Trump being one such punter.

Few women can attract this level of reward, unless they are white and speak English, because the global porn industry reflects the racism of its customer base. It is one of the most glaring examples of white supremacy in an inverted form and seeks to universalise abusive sexual practices across the world.

Since 2014 the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has sought to estimate spending on drugs and prostitution in its official figures to reflect a picture of economic activity in the UK in a broader sense. Together its estimate added about £10 billion to the UK’s economic output. The statisticians extrapolated from a survey of prostitutes in London that the UK had 60,879 sex workers, each seeing an average of 29 clients a week and charging them a mean rate of £67 in 2009. Its figures suggested that payments to prostitutes rose for 6 consecutive years to £78 in 2015, before dropping to £73 in 2016.

It would be interesting to know how representative the sample used by the ONS is. London has the biggest prostitution market in the UK, many prostituted women are extremely marginalised and would be unlikely to engage with anyone not involved in the sex or drugs industries themselves. This would particularly be the case if they are migrant women who have been trafficked here and are at risk of deportation if they come to the attention of government authorities. There is also a high level of variation in remuneration due to the classist nature of the industry.

An increase in demand for prostituted women results in increased trafficking of women and girls into the industry in that country to satisfy it, not an increase in what the women already in the industry can charge for services. This is a factor in the under-representation of German and Dutch women in brothels in Germany and red-light districts in the Netherlands. A reduction in spending can therefore reflect lower prices in the market for sexual services as more women become involved in prostitution.

The statistics tell you little if you can’t tell whether particular “services” have become cheaper due to the number of women offering them and this resulting in the cost of them going down.

“Seeing clients” is also a euphemistic way of presenting what is occurring and the market value of individual “services”. Activities which our law categorises as extreme and illegal when depicted in porn, but not illegal when carried outside porn, attract ever lower financial rewards in prostitution as they have become normalised and in other countries may be included in “all inclusive” prices. They then translate into activities which young women and young girls outside the sex trade may be called “prudish” for refusing.

I am referring in particular here to being defecated on, urinated on, choked, suffocated, fisted or receiving other acts connected with submissiveness in BDSM, all of which previously attracted a premium where women involved in off-street prostitution were concerned. This is because very few women offered them on websites in the UK when the Office for National Statistics started collecting this data.

It was discovering in 2018 that a Polish woman was being paid 25% of what being defecated on and beaten would have earned you in 2010, and by a big political heavyweight celebrity in a position to know the commodity value of this “service” in the sex trade, that alerted me to this phenomenon. “Girlfriend Experience?”

In Germany, with legalisation, it was the large number of women being trafficked to brothels who had the same effect on the “commodity value” of that particular “service” and others. The only way to get ahead in this downward spiral is to submit to more extreme practices, or for the traffickers to procure ever younger women and children.

Before I became involved in prostitution, I often heard claims made that prostituted women were frequently responsible for introducing men who sought sexual services to illegal substances and were a nexus for these two markets. In my experience the direction of influence was entirely the other way. Clients frequently tried unsuccessfully to get me to provide cocaine, heroin and other substances for them. They were that confident that a woman would be selling sex to fund her own substance use that they expected me to provide them.

There was a similar disconnect in the surprise expressed by many of the men who contacted me through the website I used that I spoke English. Many, if not most of the profiles on the websites which facilitate prostitution in the UK are written by men who control prostituted migrant women. Clients are fully aware of this. It does not deter them or cause them to consider whether or not the woman they pay to see may have been trafficked.

As well as being drawn into involvement with the trade in illegal substances in order to attract and retain clients, particularly high-earning ones, women becoming involved with the sex trade are likely to be drawn into performing services far removed from the impression of the industry conveyed by the shots of stockinged legs used to market it.

Online porn has popularised an extended definition of “sex” and “sexual services”, which now include exposure to faeces, urine, vomit and spit. These are all bio-hazards. We are living in an era in which microbial resistance to antibiotics poses a threat to humanity capable of causing the deaths of 10 million people. The coronavirus Covid-19 has had a drastic effect on our lives in 2020 and a mutation is spreading.

It takes several thousand generations for a beneficial mutation to extend all the way through a population. Mutations in bacteria such as e-coli which give it an advantage in its environment can pass through 10,000 generations in about 2 weeks in a laboratory and in a slightly longer period outside. Mutations in viruses respond in a similar way.

I was vaccinated against cholera as a child because of risks from untreated sewage in the city in which I grew up. When I visited a sexual health clinic to request another vaccination because I frequently had contact with clients who travelled frequently, it was clear to me that staff there had a limited understanding of the health risks associated with some porn-derived “modern sexual practices”.

Teen Vogue recently featured film of a young woman denouncing “kink shaming”. She presumably would agree that there are some limits, including the need for consent, the absence of coercion and the need to be aware of the potential harm caused by bacteria and viruses which are immune to one’s opinion of them. There is no hiding place from facultative virulence. “Do What Thou Wilt”, a mantra porn and prostitution have been following for some time with ever-diminishing returns for the women involved with them, would win a Darwin Award as a strategy statement at a social and community level.

Further reading

Critique of the Médecins du Monde study into the Nordic Model law in France

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