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Abolish Prostitution Now
December 10, 2013 International Human Rights Day with other feminist activists I am launching a new movement: Abolish Prostitution Now
WHY IS PROSTITUTION A VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS?
EXPLANATION OF THE DRAFT CONVENTION AGAINST SEXUAL EXPLOITATION
By Kathleen Barry, Ph.D.
As long as violence of johns/punters is the criteria for identifying harm of those bought in prostitution, even when, as many do, the definition of violence is extended to include such things as humiliation, the burden for establishing harm of prostitution remains on those bought and will ultimately revert back to the issue of consent. Even in the prostitution of children, it is assumed that because the prostituted human being is a child s/he is harmed. That’s it. No additional violence is required to make child prostitution a human rights violation. BUT, the reason a child is harmed is because s/he is not considered as being able to consent due to being a child.
For once and for all, let us remove the issue of the victim’s consent in every case of sexual crimes. In calling for global recognition of prostitution as a violation of human rights, we are making a paradigm shift from issues like consent and choice or absence of consent and choice to the fact that prostitution in all of its occurrences violates the human rights of those purchased by the act of making the purchase and the act of the sex engaged by the purchaser.
Why is prostitution a harm that must be recognized as a violation of human rights?
I begin by observing that the sexuality of prostitution has become so normalized among non-prostituted people that we can consider modern day sexuality as being heavily shaped by pornography into the prostitution of sexuality. If the acts that were thought to be confined to prostitution are a widespread part of sexual experiences and they do not include violence, such as fellatio purchased in prostitution, given in other exchanges, then where is the violation? My best guess, my own experience as a woman under male domination, my almost 40 years of research, writing, activism on this subject, my interviews with women in prostitution all combine to tell me that women who have been in prostitution, suffered through recovery, some making it others not, will understand that the harm to which they were subjected occurred when not only when they were subjected to violence. Violating human rights begins with making woman into the objectified other for one’s own sexual use – that is where rape begins, that is where prostitution begins. Look at any form of domination in the world and we find that objectification for use by another is its foundation. Full liberation cannot be achieve by stopping violence, its’ underlying root in objectification of the human being for use and exploitation by another must be stopped.
Why objectification? It is the most fundamental strategy of the dominant group, men over women, whites over blacks, Israelis over Palestinians, the list goes on. Every person and group of people who hold the power to dominate over others start with objectification through which they establish their own non-objectified superiority. In that objectification, the other’s human dignity is abused or destroyed in a moment, over several customers in one evening, through weeks of being taken as a sexual object, into months and years.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a fundamental governing document of the United Nations, its enactment trusted to the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights recognizes in its Preamble “the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” Inalienable rights are derived from the dignity of the human person, objectification for the purpose of power, to use as a commodity violates human dignity and obliterates a person’s human rights. One need not be beaten for that to come about.
In working with UNESCO, the educational, social and cultural organization of the United Nations, through their Women’s Rights division I brought together a group of feminists researchers and policy makers in 1992 to formulate prostitution as a violation of human rights. In five days of meetings with intense study and analysis of the condition of prostitution, we recognized that power of domination was the foundation of men’s choice to buy human beings for prostitution, of men’s organization of prostitution to make commodities available for them to buy, men’s deployment of an ideology that shifts the focus from them to the women by identifying the issue as women’s choice, were the forces that establish the violation of human rights of the prostituted women and children. In that meeting we defined the harm of prostitution as sexual exploitation and identified the elements of a new convention (http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0009/000913/091355mb.pdf - report of that meeting in English and in French):
Sexual exploitation is a practice by which person(s) achieve sexual gratification, or financial gain, or advancement through the abuse of a person’s sexuality by abrogating that person’s human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental well-being. (Part I, Article 1, draft Convention Against Sexual Exploitation) Prostitution of Sexuality, 1995 Appendix)
With feminist international human rights lawyer Elizabeth DeFeis we drafted the full convention following the template for United Nations human rights treaties. I began work on promoting this approach to prostitution, saw it adopted as law in Vietnam in 1993 but later when the country turned to a market economy, saw the laws changed under the influence of funding from Australian AIDS projects that supported the market in human beings by providing condoms to Vietnamese women. Before that, prostitution was so negligible in Vietnam one could say it had been eradicated.
For those of you who are exited women and survivors of prostitution, as well as the many feminist and human rights activists working to end prostitution, you may read this definition and recognize that it does not apply only to those who have been prostituted. And that is true. Understanding that the sexuality of prostitution has become normalized to be the prostitution of sexuality, in formulating this right to live free of sexual exploitation, we decided it was essential to not confined sexual exploitation to any one group, which would in fact defy the meaning of a human rights violation which occurs whenever and wherever those conditions arise. Did we/I make the right decision?
I believe that as long as women can claim there was no violence in the prostitution they experienced (which they call sex work) such as in the example of fellatio I have given early and in accordance with the normalization of prostitution, then we have weakened our opposition and arguments to the male power upon which the entire institution of prostitution rests. Moreover, and most importantly, prostituted women are not different from other women and should not be treated as a separate category of human beings. They are women who are or have been sexually exploited and that can be said of much of the whole class of women.
Our feminist movement is committed to ending prostitution. But we are not doing it as missionaries as I have mentioned elsewhere, (Open Letter, December, 2013) I myself and most women have had some experience of sexual exploitation and the male power that drives it. I fight that campaign not for women are or have been in prostitution because they are different from me, a separate class as the madonna/whore dichotomy of women would have it. I fight for all of us, at the same time knowing the special and particular issues of surviving prostitution required their own particular attention.
For me the brilliance of the “Nordic Model” is that it makes buying prostitution a crime. Full stop. No further qualifiers. As long as violence is not used to qualify why prostitution is a crime, we able to understand and recognize male power and its use of human objectification to dominate and control.
In sending this to you and publishing it on the internet, I am calling for us to discuss the following draft convention. It is an evolving concept. It is not a perfect document, and that is the beauty and wonder of Human Rights, they are recognized to be always evolving, never static, and desperately the United Nations needs to open its gates to address this problem right now. It can begin with the draft Convention Against Sexual Exploitation.
At minimum we can use this document to discuss how we want to formulate prostitution as a violation of human rights today. We hope to do that in conjunction with the relevant persons at the United Nations.
Kathleen Barry, Ph.D., Sociologist and Professor Emerita of Penn State University
Santa Rosa, California
Proposed Human Rights Law (Download PDF)
The Prostitution Of Sexuality - eBook Available
The Prostitution Of Sexuality now available in eBook in the U.S., U.K., and Australia. Recent laws to abolish prostitution by criminalizing those who buy it not those who sell it started here with this book. Booklist found Kathleen Barry's work "Frightening, provocative, controversial, and much needed are a few words to describe this work of feminist scholarship that’s a follow-up to Barry’s groundbreaking Female Sexual Slavery." Kindle | Google | Sony | Kobo
From the U.S. civil rights movement to global liberation of women, my activism is focused on liberation and self-determination which has brought me to my latest book, Unmaking War, Remaking Men. I begin by trying to envision a future of peace and equality as well as freedom from violence and exploitation. I get there by listening carefully and with empathy to women's stories, soldiers' testimonies and victims experiences. Grounding in real life stories with their yearning for freedom and liberation begins the quest for a new kind of future.
The politics of empathy that emerges from Unmaking War, Remaking Men takes us from stories to social structures, from masculinity to the military, from state leadership to governments that violate human rights. In exposing women's inequality and human rights violations of women, as I did in Female Sexual Slavery and Prostitution of Sexuality, we discover new paths to human rights and equality. This is what led me to develop the Convention Against Sexual Exploitation which now serves as a model for state laws which have curtailed prostitution and trafficking in several countries.
Whether it is the network of programs around the world for women and children escaping prostitution or the half-century of campaigns by Susan B. Anthony for women's rights and equality, I am privileged to be part of the global feminist activism that is changing the world. I invite you, if you have not done so already, to be part of the solution by finding the activism that best suits you for unmaking war, remaking men.
NEW SECTION: Check out the NEW PROGRAMS section of my website!