Chelsea Geddes

Chelsea writes from New Zealand, where the sex trade is fully decriminalised

Hey you ‘If a woman CHOOSES to do sex work then she is empowered by sex work and you’re just a SWERF bigot crowd! Yes you! Hi. Listen to me.

I am one of those women who is said to be here by choice.

No one groomed me into this choice, granted I was underage when I was first faced with this choice but it was still my own ‘choice’ as you define the word. And I still ‘choose’ this every time I get up and go into the brothel for money (which is every time I have rent/bills or need food or other necessities i.e. All the time).

At first I thought the sex industry was a brilliant idea, it was something I could do without any qualifications or experience, without a home or even any ID. And it promised to provide for my needs and more. The adverts in the papers for strip clubs and brothels I would eventually graduate to when I turned 18 all boasted that it was EASY, that there was lots of MONEY, and that the men were FRIENDLY. I thought I could use it to pay my way to an even better choice later on, after uni and all that jazz. And for a little while, when I was young (and before the financial recession) I had plenty of money for clothes and drugs and being fabulous. (Which somehow seemed important at the time). I could always give money to friends whenever they struggled, and make things ‘my shout’ just because it felt good to be able to offer it.

I thought that I could make my abusive and difficult past (at home with my parents) just that, a thing of the past I never had to think about ever again. I was going to be a free, ‘independent woman’ (cue Beyonce singing).

That element of choice didn’t make the experiences I have had over the years in the industry and with johns any different to the experiences that someone trafficked or tricked into the industry by a Romeo would have had with those same johns.

The vast, vast majority of johns are total assholes. I’m not overreacting, I didn’t become a feminist because I ‘just hate (poor, innocent) men’. I was once the biggest fucking cheerleader of them all, because I was starved of love. So don’t be daft, keep listening.

Johns don’t give a fuck if you are over 18 or not. In fact many prefer if you’re not. They don’t give a fuck if you were trafficked or if you were tricked or groomed into the industry or if it was your own idea or whether you put on an optimistic/positive pair of rose-tinted glasses. They treat us all the same. Like we are nothing. Like they own us. Like we exist to serve them and like we exist as receptacles for their bodies and their perversions. Like we exist as punching bags, a safe target for them to take all their aggression and problems out on… because we are nothing. Because we can’t do nothing. And because often no one else gives a shit about us either.

They can even murder us thinking no one will miss us and that they are doing the world good by ridding it of us. Many serial killers who were johns and targeted prostituted women have also publicly expressed this sentiment in courtrooms and from their prison cells. I really don’t think any of those killers checked first to see if their victims were there by choice or not. ‘Oh you choose to be here, so I’m going to be nice to you’ said no John ever.

Sadly the wider society echoes the johns’ perspective. Prostitutes are the highest rate of homicide victims of all other industries and of all other women, and our murders get the littlest attention from media. Our society thinks johns are just ‘good guys’ who have a right to buy and use women. Amnesty International even tried to propose the buying of others for sexual use as a human right, overriding the existing international human right not to be prostituted. The rights to freedom of expression, security of person, the right to fair and equal treatment and conditions in the work place, the right to live free from torture and the right to not endure unwanted sex/rape are all denied to the prostituted.

‘Choice’ in this context, makes very little difference.

Wanting to criminalize johns BUT NOT the prostituted is not about hating or excluding sex workers. Criminalizing johns is about johns. It’s about how impossible it is to prosecute johns for anything they do especially when johning itself is legal and legitimized.

If you want to talk about decriminalizing prostitutes and supporting women’s choices, then you are preaching to the choir and just won’t shut up and listen long enough to realise it! Because you’ve labelled us SWERFs and used that slur to slander and silence us. The only difference there is we also want to create more and better options for women and for the prostituted so that we can actually HAVE choices when we don’t, and so that we have more to choose FROM when our choices are limited.

I’m for offering support and services to the prostituted so we can access pathways into careers that are more rewarding than prostitution not just financially but in all ways, that don’t demand we surrender our rights to our own bodies and sexuality in return. Those careers are the primary source of income for the men who fund pornography, strip clubs and prostitution. That’s where my hooker money comes from before it leaves the johns’ hands to the pockets of pimps and I don’t ever remember saying I choose to not be included in production. I don’t ever remember saying I’d rather get the scraps handed down from the people who are if I do what they tell me to do. Yet all we’re producing in the sex industry is male orgasms on the backs of human misery (and again it’s men who get all the money involved in this non-industry as pimps, brothel operators, strip club owners and pornographers). I’m really struggling to see where the empowerment for women is here in this so-called work that is more like slavery.

The work world that we are excluded from needs to be opened up and within that world women need to be equally valued and earn equal pay for equal work to the men in it. That’s real feminism, and that will be real empowerment – not crawling naked on all fours smiling through abuse for men’s scrap play money.

That’s uncomfortable for some women to hear but that’s the honest truth of the situation and choosing that situation doesn’t change that situation from what it is into something else. And the shame or ‘stigma’ you intuit from this position does not belong with the prostituted. You are right to be angry at the long standing tradition of projection which places that additional burden on prostituted women. But it does belong squarely on the johns and pimps who exploit them, and on the society that doesn’t give women the same array of options as men to begin with, the society that makes a woman’s choice unequal to a man’s choice.

And the fact that a woman’s choice is unequal to a man’s choice in this society is why prostitutes are mostly women and girls, and why johns are nearly always men, and why pimps put their money behind the ‘feminist’ ‘It’s a woman’s choice‘ line in media and advertising, and it’s why we need feminism at all.

Page first published: 30 April 2016.

Chelsea Geddes