Pimps, traffickers, and promoters of the sex industry everywhere must be hoping that the furore over Andrew Tate’s predatory activities and the action taken against him in Romania will deflect attention from their own attitudes and use of the same strategies. It must be disquieting for them to see a pimp and trafficker so publicly and globally bust myths around “empowerment” to such a large audience.
The faux horror at claims that the women Tate exploited were tattooed as his property, used for money-laundering, subjected to violence and sexual assault, and prevented from leaving his compound suggests a high level of ignorance about the nature of sexual exploitation in the current era. None of these tactics or the violence Tate used to control women are novel. Tattooing “ownership” of submissive women also occurs in BDSM. Tate is an imitator of the men who use these practices rather than the originator of them.
The same people who claim from the top of ivory towers that there is a “human right to sex” which, unless it extends no further than masturbation, implies a duty on the part of the state to provide access to prostitution, are puzzlingly united in condemnation of Tate. After all, what legal prostitution means in practice is not so different from what Tate advocates: the sacrifice of a whole class of marginalised people – mostly women and girls – through coercion, violence and misrepresentation. One reason perhaps is that Tate’s language is direct, often vulgar and lacks the use of tranquilising euphemism.
It’s like the familiar strategy of organised crime groups handing a suspect over after a particularly outrageous incident, because the ensuing press attention and the influx of law enforcement officers might otherwise be damaging to their wider business interests.
Basing his operations inside Romania, from where organised crime groups traffic thousands of young girls into brothels in Europe using the same, “loverboy/Romeo pimp” method of predation, was an unusual move. Muscling in on the territory of other organised crime groups, competing for the same supply of women, was always likely to have consequences.
The “Matrix” which has come after Andrew Tate includes many other incarnations of himself. Who will go after them once their competitor’s operations have been shut down?
The megabrothel-owners in Germany and their counterparts in many European countries profit from and exploit women and young girls who have entered the sex industry in the same way. Where has the outrage been from those who would affirm what happened to these women as a “choice”? Silence protects the operations of existing organised crime groups and their subordinates.
Andrew Tate is one of many men who have taken advantage of the entitlement that years of exposure to online porn has given young men.
An unusual and less-often reported aspect of the lives of men who have created or contribute to “incel” forums is how many of them do not fulfil the criterion of involuntary celibacy. Their expression of violently misogynistic views is not the result of lack of access to sex. They are exploiting young men who have been led to believe that “There’s something happening out there, I just know there is”, as Bruce Springsteen sang in “Dancing in the Dark”.
The “something” in this instance is the idea derived from porn that women enjoy abuse and degradation, rather than the reality that what they are watching is fabricated arousal, with a premium for the most painful and damaging acts, that is performed by women and young girls, many with existing vulnerabilities and experience of violence and abuse, often with few alternative choices or supportive networks, who are paid or coerced into enduring it.
Surveys in the US have shown that teenagers are now having less sex than their parents did. In a paper published in 2019 reporting the results of seven large, nationally representative surveys, Jean M. Twenge and Heejung Park noted that between 1976 and 2016 there was a significant decline in adolescents engaging in adult activities, including having sex and dating. This is not what teenage boys think if their expectation of the level of sexual activity taking place around them comes from online porn.
The same contempt for, and “othering” of, women expressed on “incel” forums is routinely expressed on punter forums, in punter reviews of prostituted women on commercial websites, and in many contexts on social media and elsewhere. What unites them is that the women in question declined to fulfil male expectations of submission.
It isn’t a lack of sex that has given these men a propensity to violent misogyny. It is the sense of entitlement that they have a right to female compliance and a right to objectify and access the bodies of women. These are attitudes broadcast not only by the global online porn industry but also global elites and international human rights organisations promoting the full decriminalisation of the sex industry and the view that states are in breach of human rights obligations if they fail to permit the facilitation of the control of sex for reward; that is, the removal through payment of the right of a woman to say “No” – otherwise known as paid rape.
The expectation transmitted by this culture is that consent can always be overridden.
What Andrew Tate and men like him are seeking is to increase both the number of pimps and the number of punters. It is as much a sex industry business strategy as the argument that there exists a “right to sex”, which people as exploitative as Tate but less likely to court publicity for themselves or their methods, must be permitted to provide for others for their personal profit.
Huge increases in the numbers of women entering all parts of the sex industry due to austerity budgets, trafficking, and media misrepresentation of the nature of the industry have created an over-supply which contributes to the erosion of personal boundaries by women in all parts of the sex industry. This over-supply is a necessity for the sex industry as it seeks to provide choices for punters that would be considered discriminatory in any other service provision context. The end game is always prostitution.
When I was studying for a Masters’ degree, I attended a lecture about global cities during which the speaker said that two essential elements for a city that wishes to be considered “global” are access to recreational drugs and access to prostituted women. But this is only true if you accept that business and other visitors to global cities are, and always will be, male, and that male supremacy and the inequality resulting from it are immutable.
The academics and university students whose response to elite overproduction is to push less affluent and well-connected students off the career pathways they expect for themselves by promoting their involvement in the sex industry to fund their studies clearly share this view.
The announcement last year by the Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, that paying for sex while on overseas operations would become a disciplinary offence for members of the UK armed forces was a very welcome counter to this, particularly as he mentioned the growing numbers of women serving in the armed forces as a factor behind this change. He said it is not acceptable that women should have to work with male colleagues who display such misogyny. As these same female members of the armed forces also work with male colleagues within the UK it should also apply here. (And to police officers and politicians.)
The Secretary of State’s announcement was also necessary following the murder of Agnes Wanjiru by a serving British soldier in Kenya and its subsequent cover-up.
The harm caused to women in the sex industry in general attracts less media interest and has less political traction than a couple of predators from the UK who have exported themselves to Romania based on an appeal to notions of male victimhood.
The tactics of Tate and his associates are of course likely to result in “graduates” who have paid for their wisdom and follow their tutors’ guidance attracting predictable and potentially lethal attention from rival organised crime groups, as well as from law enforcement. Tate demonstrates the lies in his arguments about female advantage by selling other men access to the bodies of women who have experienced and continue to experience systematic inequality.
That others who promote the same exploitation have not attracted similar international criticism suggests that Tate’s principal failing is excessive frankness.
Esther has a longstanding interest in research on legal and public policy approaches to sexualised violence and domestic abuse. She uses her own experience of porn and prostitution to reflect on these issues. You can read her other brilliant articles here.