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There’s nothing woke about the sex trade Where is the outrage about the sexual exploitation of women of colour?

Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

February 28, 2019   4 mins

It is no secret that the sex trade is riven with misogyny. The multibillion-dollar trade is built on the pain and oppression of women and girls. Yet many on the liberal Left support this abusive industry. Even the fact that black, brown and indigenous women and girls are first in line to be bought and sold into prostitution appears not to disturb these apologists. How come? On any other BME related issue they would be screaming from the roof tops, but perhaps the male defence of prostitution overrides even the racism that helps prop it up?

It was with this in mind that SPACE International, set up by Irish sex trade survivors who believe that prostitution is a cause and consequence of women’s oppression, organised the world’s first conference exploring racism in the sex trade.

Women of Colour against the Sex Trade’, held in London’s Conway Hall was a sell-out event, attended by women (and a smattering of men) of all ages and ethnicities. As one of the organisers I was mindful of the risk of protest. Not, as you might think, by thuggish racists, or pimps protecting their business model, but from self-identified ‘progressives’ such as the International Union of Sex Workers, one of the many fake “sex worker’s rights” unions. Thankfully, the protesters did not turn up, as they did at my book launch in 2017 – trying to shut down the voices of black and brown sex trade survivors is rarely a good look.

Nevertheless, the fashionable, ‘woke’ position taken by many white, middle-class students and other young people is “sex work is work”. According to this ideology, to be anti-prostitution is to practise “White Feminism”.

How can feminists support an industry which is, in the main, controlled by rich, powerful men? One that relies on exploitation of the poorest, most disenfranchised women and girls, in particular from developing and war-torn countries, to maintain its flow. In wealthy countries such as the UK, demand for prostitution leads to women and girls being trafficked in from South East Asia, West Africa, and Eastern Europe. How can the Left claim to be all for liberating oppressed peoples and yet support the most exploitative industry on the planet?

At Conway Hall the atmosphere was electric as the speakers explained with passion and honesty why the sex trade has to be shut down. More than half of the speakers had escaped prostitution, and the others supported women and girls caught up in sexual exploitation.

Ne’cole Daniels, an African-American sex trade survivor who works with at-risk women and girls in California told the rapt audience: “The sex trade is built on racism. Black women are paid less [than their white counterparts], and treated even worse.”

Bridget Perrier is a Native Canadian activist who was pimped into prostitution aged 12. Eventually, after years of abuse and degradation, Perrier escaped, going on to set up the feminist abolitionist organisation Sex Trade 101. Perrier recounted how, during a previous debate, a member of the pro-prostitution lobby group the English Collective of Prostitutes, accused her of  having “blood on her hands” because she campaigns to introduce laws that criminalise the men who pay for sex.

The ECP argue that going after the punters means the men will be more nervous and potentially more violent. But countries that have introduced this law have found the opposite to be true – men are deterred, and women are able to be supported by police if they encounter a dodgy buyer because she is no longer seen as the criminal, he is.

At Conway Hall, Perrier spoke of how she is raising the daughter of one of the victims of the serial killer Robert Pickton, a Canadian farmer convicted of murdering 69 indigenous prostituted women. “It’s not stigma that kills our women, or laws,” she almost shouted, “it’s the men who buy us.”

When legalisation of the sex trade is so lauded by the woke crowd, hearing from the likes of the anti-trafficking activist Roëlla Lieveld is crucial. The founder of Share Network, an organisation based in Amsterdam that campaigns against trafficking and the sex trade, Lieveld says that the majority of prostituted women displayed like meat in the windows of Amsterdam’s brothels are from Romania and West Africa. There are so few Dutch-born women selling sex that pimps put stickers with the Dutch flag or “NL” (Netherlands) in the window for advertising purposes.

Vednita Carter, an African-American sex-trade abolitionist who in 1996 set up Breaking Free, a support service for women and girls in prostitution in Minneapolis. “Black women are at the bottom of society’s barrel,” Carter told Conway Hall. “If you refuse to stand with us to condemn prostitution, you can no longer say, ‘Sisterhood is powerful’. You would be betraying us if you support the buying and selling of the bodies of black women and girls.” The white, Leftists supporting campaigns such as Black Lives Matter need to have a think about the lives of the black women being exploited in the sex trade.

Suzanne Jay, of the Asian Women for Equality Society, described the history of male exploitation of women of colour. “US soldiers in the Philippines described the women they exploited as ‘little brown fucking machines’.” Jay spoke of the “comfort women system”, an abhorrent Japanese practice of keeping women under conditions of sexual slavery for use by army troops. The practice began prior to the Second World War and lasted well over 15 years and the countries in which it operated spanned the breadth of Japan’s wartime empire in the Asia-Pacific region. The US military even re-enacted the system during the post-war years when it occupied Japan.

And sexual exploitation in developing countries by military personnel continues today – among UN peacekeepers the issue is endemic and routine. Prostitution is built on inequality, and there is nothing as stark as the power imbalance between impoverished women of colour in developing countries, and the white male saviours supposedly there to help. Some punters I have interviewed have even had the nerve to tell me that paying desperately poor women for sex is an act of kindness, because at least they get to eat.

In the words of the Irish sex-trade survivor Rachel Moran, in response to the head of Human Rights Watch who was suggesting that “sex work” is better than going hungry: “Wouldn’t you say, if a person cannot afford to feed herself, the appropriate thing to put in their mouth is food, not your cock?” Those woke men and women who embrace the view that prostitution is “sex work”, and a genuine choice for women, should think about Moran’s words.

Julie Bindel is an investigative journalist, author, and feminist campaigner. Her latest book is Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation. She also writes on Substack.


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