The following was written in response to the 11.5.14 feature in DigBoston titled: “The World’s Oldest Obsession: Boston’s Strange and Problematic New Approach to Curbing Prostitution” by Jamie J. Hagen. Our editorial staff stands by the article as it was published, but believe the central subjects of the story are entitled a chance to further explain their mission …
Dear Mr. McCarthy and Mr. Faraone,
Dig Boston’s article on the city’s new effort to curb prostitution by holding sex buyers accountable – instead of punishing those prostituted –failed to capture the physical, emotional, and psychological harm caused by commercial sexual exploitation. Author Jamie Hagen portrays Boston’s illegal sex trade as if it were any other free market industry. She implies that the city’s underground sex business is comprised almost entirely of consenting adults who willingly trade sex for money, threatened only by the city’s “strange and problematic” interference.
While this may be true for a select few, the prostituted people I know and work with would paint a far bleaker picture. As Marian Hatcher, a survivor of prostitution and advisor to Demand Abolition puts it:
“References to “sex work” or “sex worker” are derogatory in that they imply a chosen way of meeting one’s basic needs – an occupation. In reality it is not a chosen path to gaining economic security. It is forced servitude, most often by an opportunistic male pimp or trafficker, and in other instances an undesirable choice for basic survival.”
If interviewed by Ms. Hagen, the prostituted people I know would tell her about being forced to have sex for money when they were just teenagers (the average age of entry into prostitution is 15).They’d share heart-breaking stories about suffering sexual abuse as children, a trauma 65 to 95 percent of all prostituted people share. They’d recall living in fear of their pimp or buyer. (Research shows that 60 to 75 percent of prostituted people have been raped by pimps and sex purchasers, and between 70 and 95 percent have been physically assaulted in prostitution.) They’d tell the stories of their sisters who would like nothing more than to leave prostitution all together but are too scared, or impoverished, to do so. (One study showed that 89 percent of women in prostitution would stop if they thought they had other viable options.)
It’s for these reasons that Demand Abolition regards the buying of people’s bodies for sex as a criminally exploitative practice. Ms. Hagen labels this overly moralistic, but we see it as a basic respect for human rights.
While I don’t share her view of illegal commercial sex as simply another career opportunity, I know there is much that she and I agree on. We both long for a world where exploitation and violence against vulnerable adults and children isn’t tolerated. We both acknowledge that creating new laws (or enforcing old, out-of-touch ones) that stigmatize people in prostitution is wrong, and that more services should be available for anyone who feels victimized by commercial sex.
Clearly, Ms. Hagen favors total decriminalization of prostitution as a way to reduce many of its intrinsic harms. Demand Abolition advocates for a system that holds sex buyers legally accountable while providing services to those in prostitution who want to leave – a model that has been proven effective. For Ms. Hagen to call this approach “strange” is strange indeed, since half a dozen progressive countries including Sweden, Norway, and Iceland, have taken this approach. France, Israel, and Canada are among several other countries with similar bills moving through legislative bodies. And a growing number of jurisdictions across the United States are implementing similar policies.
Our aim is not to put more people in prison, but to redirect community and criminal justice efforts and funds toward deterring would-be sex buyers and fining those convicted of buying a person for sex, with fees going to survivor services. We also support counseling as a condition of convicted sex buyers’ sentencing so they can learn how their patronage fuels the many harms inherent in the commercial sex industry – including sex trafficking. We do not advocate any form of public shaming as the article incorrectly stated.
We may not agree on which path will get us there, but Demand Abolition and numerous allies will continue our collective mission to get us closer to a world free of sexual exploitation, which in the end is exactly what Ms. Hagen and I both want.
Lina Nealon, Founding Director, Demand Abolition