Prostitution is the Absence of Choice (Half the Sky Chap. 2) #sjbc

This post is part of the April Social Justice Book Club. This week we are discussing Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

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Conversation Questions for Chapter Two:

The authors discuss the evolution of their thoughts regarding how best to deal with forced prostitution and child prostitution……..legalize and regulate vs. prohibition. Before reading this book, what were your thoughts on preventing/reducing prostitution in the U.S. and abroad? What are your thoughts now? Do you agree or disagree with the “big stick approach”?

“Rescuing girls from brothels is the easy part, however. The challenge is keeping them from returning.”

After reading Half the Sky up to this point and then reading this statement, what thoughts come to mind? What feelings?

What kind of threats would have to be made for you to stay enslaved, to not run away? What makes some of these women stay in the prostitution industry?

In your opinion, do any women enter prostitution willingly? If so, why?

Source: The above questions come from the organization Global Women.

Please share with us your responses to the questions above or any thoughts or questions you have about the issue of sex-slavery in the comments section below.

The Social Justice Book Club is a project of Independence Rock Group: Center for Faith, Ethics, and Social Justice. Please consider supporting the Social Justice Book Club and our other projects. Find other posts about the Book Club and Half the Sky here.

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  • Patrick

    If we actually talk to current and former sex workers in any numbers, we discover that there are a wide variety of degrees of choice involved in how much direct coercion they faced and what sort of alternative economic choices they have/had. Some people have faced what is undeniably a form of enslavement, other have picked sex work over other forms of potentially available gainful employment. This is not theory, it is fact. It should also be noted that there are men and non-binary gendered people who are sex workers, and that while there are no high-quality statistics for trafficking, it seems odd that well documented forms of trafficking (especially non-sexual domestic labor trafficking) that do not involve sex work are so little talked about by people who make trafficking their activism. We should also note that in the absence of direct coercion, where people go into sex-work from economic desperation, preventing the sex-work without addressing the underlying economic situation is a form of inflicting additional harm. This is particularly blatant with examples of populations like Trans Women of Color who are often shut out entirely from the legal workplace and social safety nets. Merely making it harder for them to engage in sex-work will not improve their lives, and is likely to make them worse.

    Much sex work chosen in the absence of direct coercion is still plagued by pretty dangerous conditions mentally and physically, but it’s not clear at all that this is inherent to sex work. The legal and social stigma associated which forces sex work into the shadows where it cannot be made safer as legal work can be is a big issue here. So to, we should consider the work conditions under neoliberal, globalized capitalism and why some sex workers very specifically talk about how their labor conditions are less bad than they might face in other employment situations.

    Nor can we be misled by the utterly confused metaphor that a woman who voluntarily engages in paid sex acts is “selling her body.” If she is selling her body, than so is anyone engaging in waged work. A sex worker sells (rents really) zir labor, in the form of performing sexual acts. It’s not clear how, other than traditional moral opprobrium, we can assume that being paid to wait on someone’s table (with an expectation of a certain amount of “emotional labor”) is different in kind from paying someone to perform a sexual act. I have at least some sympathy to the notion that waged labor is inherently exploitive, but it isn’t one that restricts itself to sex work.

    I’ll also say that despite my distaste and distrust of capitalism, that choosing a name for this “half the sky” movement that literally comes from Mao Zedong is a very odd choice indeed. Certainly Mao is not associated in any real way with increaded freedom, or improved choice. OTOH if the movement is as ideologically blinded to facts as it sometimes seems, quoting the mind behind The Great Leap Forward, which was blinded by ideology to the harm it was causing may have an odd appropriateness, though i concede this is a cheap shot.


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