God bless Rogers Matthews for taking 20 years to study prostitution and to write this book. Moreover, it seems that his street cred is going to make a difference as Britain considers how to keep its sex workers safe, given that they are 18 times more likely than any other group of women to be killed in their line of work (go figure!)
In the book, Matthews describes most women he has met on the streets as "extremely desperate, damaged, and disorganised". "Many of these women, who are supposed to be 'working', are obviously off their faces with drugs and drink," he says. "Which other 'profession' would that be tolerated in?" He has interviewed women who have carried on selling sex immediately after being stabbed, raped, beaten, and in once case, hours after giving birth. "Entry into prostitution is often as a result of physical and sexual abuse, parental neglect, a history of local authority care, and drug addiction," says Matthews.
"I think that speaks for itself."
As one of the few men doing research in this sector, do his views on the women involved ever prompt charges of paternalism? Matthews is resolute. "The women involved in prostitution - particularly street prostitution - are not only among the most victimised group in society, but many of them are multiple victims. If the term 'victimisation' is to have any meaning, then those involved in prostitution must be prime candidates."
I know the feminist community is split on this issue -- some agreeing with Matthews but many more saying that it's a job just like any other and only prudishness makes their lives prone to judgement from others. Nonsense.
What of the arguments that often crop up, that prostitution is a necessary trade, that individual men need an outlet for their sex drive? "We know relatively little about men who pay for sex," says Matthews, "but the available research suggests that most of them are married or have steady partners, and that they are not driven by an irrepressible biological need. In fact, the available research indicates that the motivation of many men is relatively low, and that in the vast majority of cases it would not take much to deter them from paying for sex."
The book explores the failures of the legalisation of brothel prostitution. "When governments are seen to be endorsing prostitution, it leads to a massive expansion of the trade, both legal and illegal," says Matthews. "It brings the worst of all worlds." He has a point. Women working in legal brothels in Nevada, for example, have spoken about how prostitution under such a regime feels like "legalised rape", and that no laws can remove the stigma of selling sex.
The entire piece is worth the read, and we cannot neglect to pray for the women (and youngsters -- boys and girls) who are caught up in this horrific net of abuse.
[Nota bene: the book doesn't appear to be available from the American Amazon site. And the link at the bottom of the article shows a gallery of the very mindset he's fighting against. One caption reads:
The Sex Worker Open University aims to demonstrate some of the positive dimensions of this choice for those who enjoy sex work -- to show that 'sex workers are full members of society, with skills'. Raven, whose clients include older men who have never outed themselves as gay and people with disabilities, claims these skills include the ability to offer healing, theraputic and non-judgmental compassion to a stranger. 'Personally,' he says, 'I love my job and I have no hang-ups about it'. ]