Monday, 7 September 2015
Interview - Everything You Know About 'Sex Work' is Wrong - Rachel Moran
Rachel Moran, ex sex worker interviewed by Mickey Z for the World News Trust
“When you are 15 years old and destitute, too unskilled to work and too young to claim unemployment benefit, your body is all you have left to sell.” Faced with this stark and all-too-common reality, Rachel Moran was prostituted for seven years in Ireland until she managed to extricate herself at the age of 22.
Since then, Moran has not only earned a BA in Journalism from Dublin City University and an MA in Creative Writing from University College Dublin, she’s also become a outspoken advocate of the Nordic Model and an equally outspoken critic of the post-modern perspective on “sex workers.” Since early 2011, she’s courageously addressed audiences at numerous international locations, including United Nations Plaza, the European Parliament and Harvard University.
Rachel’s uncompromising and riveting memoir Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution is being released in the U.S. on September 8, 2015. Paid For not only earned endorsements from Catharine MacKinnon, Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, and Jimmy Carter, it also puts the lie to vapid post-modern liberal “theories” about “sexual liberation.”
In light of her book release and the recent decision by Amnesty International to protect the “rights” of pimps and johns, it felt like the ideal time to talk with Rachel.
Mickey Z: Considering that the global sex trade is a massive business and that female voices are so often misrepresented or silenced by the corporate media, is it safe to assume you've faced quite a backlash for speaking out as you do?
Rachel Moran: Well, first of all, whether or not women's voices are silenced very much depends on what it is they have to say. Women who play along with the happy hooker narrative are most welcome in the media. They simply fit the script that's been presented to us through popular culture, and they are also welcome voices because they don't make people feel uncomfortable. They don't force people to challenge the ideas they've absorbed through multiple forms of media, most notably through literature and film; so if you say that you are an "empowered sex worker" you will be lauded and applauded, but if you tell the uncomfortable truth that prostitution is a global system of commercialized sexual abuse played out within the broader system of capitalist patriarchy, your testimony will be unwanted, and unwelcome.
I have faced an enormous international backlash for speaking out about the system of prostitution, but to be fair, the worst of it has not come from the corporate media. It has come from pro-prostitution lobbyists; people who describe themselves as "sex workers rights activists," the majority of whom have no personal experience of prostitution.
MZ: Who are these “lobbyists” and “activists” and why do you suppose they’re so anxious to attack and even silence someone like you?
RM: The full unabridged account of the global pro-prostitution lobby, who they are, how their interests are interlinked and how they operate internationally, is probably one that can never been written for reasons of its sheer scale and complexity. A concise understanding would take into account that there are basically three groups operating together here: those who are motivated sexually, financially, or ideologically in their pursuit of upholding, defending and maintaining the global sex trade.
Those who are motivated sexually are of course punters, or johns as they're known in the United States. Those who are motivated financially are pimps, brothel owners, a minority of the women who are currently prostituting, and some harm reduction service providers who are keen to continue receiving funding through government HIV prevention programs which keeps their NGO’s afloat. They distribute clean needles and condoms but express strong opposition to providing actual alternatives to women in prostitution. Those who are motivated ideologically are very often academics, politicians, journalists or other social commentators.
Vested interests in the pro-lobby camp overlap much more often than my political opponents would ever admit. For example, I personally know of one academic researcher who is also a john.
Unsurprisingly, he churns out "research" from the perspective of his own personal bias, and, most sickeningly, draws on the assistance of his female colleagues, for whom the pro-prostitution position is simply fashionable, as it is in most of academia. These particular female academics haven't a clue how they are being used to further their male colleagues personal agenda. I also know of a male journalist who is a john. Again, he writes incessantly about the sex trade, and the supposed saving powers of legalized systems, with nothing to recommend his contentions beyond his own hard-on. So these are examples of the types of overlaps that exist within the pro-prostitution lobby, and the sort of skewed biases that are injected into our society -- hidden beneath a veneer of social respectability -- as a result of them. For people like this, a woman like me is not a fly in their ointment; she is a swarm of wasps.
MZ: Those with sexual and financial motives are to be expected but I’ve always been suspicious of what motivates the ideological support -- so thanks for providing some examples of that. And what’s with the liberal feminist defense of prostitution?
RM: The first problem of liberal "feminism" -- and the one that leads to all others -- is that it is not feminism. Feminism, in the true sense of the word, describes a movement committed to liberating women from the subordinate status assigned to us by men. This is the preserve of the radicals; those of us who know what the word feminism means and have the guts to see to its realization in the practice of our politics and our everyday lives. Liberal "feminists" have earned my contempt in a number of areas, but nowhere as deeply as in the area of the global sex trade. Their pro-prostitution stance is both profoundly anti-feminist and deeply hypocritical. As I have written elsewhere, "they are very liberal when it comes to the sale of other women's vaginas, and remarkably conservative when it comes to the sale of their own."
If you doubt this, you have only to look at who makes up their numbers. They are predominantly white, upper middle class, 20-something women with the ink still wet on their college degrees. They swarm social media talking about "sex workers rights," while never having seen the inside of a brothel, and actively dismiss and attempt to silence those of us who have. What they miss is the glaring fact that the vast majority of us who have experience of the sex trade have it precisely because we don't share their myriad social privileges. We were corralled into prostitution because of marginalization along lines of class and race that they haven't even the sense to deeply consider. Their ignorance to the reality of the sex trade is in fact a major feature of their privilege, as is their ignorance to their own ignorance. I've seen a lot that's sickened me during these years of my public activism, but women who champion the use and abuse of other women who are socially vulnerable relative to them -- and do so in the name of some phantom "feminism" -- that just beats all.
As strongly as I feel, and as concrete reason as I have to feel strongly, I do try to temper this with the knowledge that these young women have simply grown up in a climate where libertarian views are in the very air they breathe, especially given that particular dogma absolutely infests the sociology and women’s studies departments of the universities. These young women have been bamboozled; they have been fooled. They have been indoctrinated by what has been fed to them by the prevailing culture. But one of the heartening things about being active in the women’s rights movement is that I see the evidence quite frequently of minds that have been changed. I have had a couple of dozen women at least approach me by now and tell me why they changed their minds about prostitution.
I’ve heard many more women make such comments at conferences and I have read remarks online that expressed how it was the unbridled acceptance of men’s right to use us that had actually turned women off this third-wave so-called "sex positive" liberal feminism. All we can do is hope that more of them will come to their senses and notice that their liberalism is in fact heavily polluted by libertarianism, and that libertarianism under capitalist patriarchy always runs in one direction -- to the detriment of women. Then, we may hope, they decide to do something about it. That will be the day they become feminists.
MZ: Getting back to the area of vested interest, are there others? And if so, how would you say they overlap?
RM: There are women currently in the sex trade who speak out in favor of legalization and decriminalization and the vested interest there is obvious. I think one thing that’s important to remember about them is that they are, from their point of view, only defending themselves. They are defending their current reality and their place in that reality. I can see where they’re coming from, and why. I’m not saying I condone it, but I understand it. What’s a lot less understandable to me is the women I’ve run across who’ve spent some time on the periphery of the sex trade and now make a living talking about it, writing about it and advocating for it, as if they had the first idea what they were advocating for. I’m talking about women who’ve earned a living as glamor models and web-cam girls. There is a world of difference between being physically used by thousands of strangers and being physically used by none. If you have made your money posing in front of a camera or a web-cam, you have no right to market yourself as a "former sex worker" and advocate for the continuance of a system you never experienced in the first place and couldn’t possibly imagine.
MZ: Could you describe more in depth some of the backlash you've received?
RM: Well, the backlash was absolutely immediate, and this circles back to your question about liberal feminism, because one of the first things I was forced to notice was that radical feminists listened to me and accepted what I was saying about what I'd lived and witnessed, while the liberals routinely dismissed me as a fantasist and a liar. They hadn't the slightest shred of evidence to support that idea, but it was enough for them that my testimony flew in the face of their happy-hooking views.
I had always known that I would face a backlash, but the sheer cruelty of people who deliberately try to erase the reality of someone who got into prostitution as a homeless 15-year-old child, that is quite breath-taking, and it really does convey the militant commitment of these people to a pro-prostitution lobby agenda.
There have been so many aspects to the abuse I've received since I spoke out publicly that there simply wouldn't be room for it in the space of one interview. I have been threatened, including at my own front door, I've had gang rape threats in the street, I have been lied about, libeled, slandered and defamed too many times to possibly count. Every single day I have to block people on social media hurling insults and defamatory statements. Two months ago I spoke out for the first time, in an Irish Times article, about the abuse I've been receiving for years. Punishment was swift; within 24 hours my home address was published on Twitter. Now every time I travel I have to worry about my son’s safety and imagine arriving home to police tape across my front door.
I have my own personal stalker; a mentally ill woman who signed a seriously defamatory statement about me which I can do very little about. I have been to lawyers and the police about that. The police tell me it's a civil matter and the lawyers tell me since she's on disability payments she's too broke to sue. This statement has been the source of a good deal of online libel that has since flowed from it.
"Sex workers rights activists" have gotten hold of my personal email and bank details, along with my home address, and circulated them among themselves and online, and the vitriol has been arriving into my inbox ever since. Online, I have been accused of more bizarre things than I could have ever imagined, including being a murderer, a pimp and a Botox addict! My friends nicknamed me "Botox face" after that one. Sometimes you just have to take your laughs where you can find them. The truth is there is no end and there will never be an end, and I think what these people resent about me most is that they know they're not dealing with the type of woman who would ever be silenced, and I never will. All I want from them is that they keep on showing the world what they are, and they're doing a fine job of that.
MZ: What can readers do right now to get involved and help?
RM: Well, the first thing I would ask is that readers be prepared to listen to those of us who've lived the sex trade. People may not be aware that there is a large and growing international sex trade survivor movement, and the U.S. wing of this movement is particularly strong. Women all over the globe are rising up and telling the truth about the lifelong harms of prostitution. I have met women of every ethnicity and nationality in over a dozen countries across the globe and we are all saying the same thing. We've produced numerous books and hundreds of articles and blogs, and what you will find across all of these testimonies is the same theme of emotional, mental, physical, sexual and spiritual harm.
Some of us have formed into groups. I set up SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution-Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) Our membership spans seven countries, including women from several U.S. states. Other U.S. women founded STSU (Sex Trafficking Survivors United) We women are finally breaking the age-old silence imposed on us by guilt and shame and we are mobilizing all across the globe and pressing our legislators for social change. I'd ask people to help give us that change. We are not even asking for it for ourselves. We are out of prostitution and the damage to us is already done. We are asking for it for the generations that will come after us.
We all know the truth about prostitution on a sensory level. That's why nobody wants their own loved ones in a brothel. The challenge for people is to take what they already know by feel and incorporate it into an understanding that is also intellectual. Study the statistics. See if you can convince yourself that a trade could be anything but harmful if almost all of those involved want out. Listen to those who've lived it, and, above all, listen to your own common sense.
Also, at this time, the whole world is under the threat of the decriminalization of pimps and johns, since Amnesty International voted to endorse their decriminalization at their International Council Meeting in Dublin just weeks ago. I will never forget that day. My phone never stopped ringing and I have never heard such an outpouring of grief since the day I started doing this work. Victims of rape and gang-rape ringing me wanting to know: "Why have Amnesty abandoned us?" "How could they do this to us?" How, they wanted to know, could the world's foremost human rights organization vote to protect the men who had brutalized them from the law? If people reading this want to help, a good start would be contacting their local Amnesty chapters to ask the same question.
Find Rachel on Twitter here.
Mickey Z. is the author of 13 books, most recentlyOccupy these Photos: NYC Activism Through a Radical Lens. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on the Web here and here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here .