Feminists fight over prostitution

September 24, 2006

For the third year, people from across the country will gather this week for the University of Toledo's national conference on prostitution. But a tense undercurrent will course through the meetings on Thursday and Friday, just as it did during both previous UT annual conferences:

Not everyone agrees on something as seemingly basic as the definition of prostitution. In this corner, are "the folks who believe prostitution equals exploitation - period, any way you cut it." In the opposite corner of the ring, "the second camp [believes] women don't sell their souls, they sell sexual services. Much like a woman sells her hands for typing, a woman will sell her vagina for sex."

Both camps are unyielding. They often refuse to appear together for panel discussions, and some women on both sides of the debate speak of showing up for conferences under police escort. "Over the last decade, this side [tries] to push legislation through or something. Then the other side shows up and they try to knock it down." At the first UT gathering a round-table session seeking common ground turned into mediation: "People sat in a room and hated each other."

Robyn Few, a former exotic dancer and prostitute, is the founder of the California-based Sex Workers Outreach Project SWOP). She has spoken at each UT conference and is coming again this year, presenting the prostitution-as-empowerment outlook. "We have women who don't believe women deserve choice over our bodies. Believe me, that puts sex-worker rights back 100 years," she argued.

(Dave notes however they insist on the right of street hookers to be a public nuisance which is why they have failed at all attempts at reforms in the U.S. Sadly their is no major group promoting decrim of only Private consenting adult sexuality that does not include street hookers which should be illegal. Private sexwork is legal in almost all the world except the U.S. Street hookers are not legal except in New Zealand which may soon be changed due to huge public outcry over the public nuisance and problem it has created. But SWOP is determined to continue their failed strategy with no insisting on public nuisance street hookers being included in law reforms. In Canada while private prostitution has always been legal, there are the issues of liberalizing bawdy house and ageny laws. As in the U.S. the outspoken pro prostitution groups are doomed to failure since they also insist on street hookers having the right to be a public nuisance)

And to those who insist prostitution is exploitation, Ms. Few said: "I made my choice, and it was my choice. And I know hundreds of women and men in our society who've made the same choice. We are normal, living, community-service assets to this society, and we live next door to you."

Melissa Farley is one of the nation's best-known prostitution abolitionists. While not on the UT agenda this week, her counter argument is widely embraced by those who agree that sex discrimination, poverty, and racism push women into prostitution. As Ms. Farley wrote on the Web site of the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women: "Women who 'choose' prostitution are sexually abused as kids at much higher rates than other women. Other ways that they 'choose prostitution' include poor or no education and no job that pays the rent. Prostitution is a choice based on lack of survival options."

Celia Williamson, meanwhile, still tries to bring both schools of thought together. "Our conference is an academic one, so we invite all the voices to be heard. At the beginning, I always have to say, 'You're going to hear different points of view. Be respectful.' " Full article at http://toledoblade.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060924/COLUMNIST03/609240366/-1/SPORTS10