How did you become involved in supporting the abolition of prostitution?
Well that’s very simple: I’ve been working on prostitution for fifteen years now, in social sciences, then philosophy. I’ve worked for NGOs too. I have both field and academic experience. I have researched and compared situations in many countries including USA, England, France, Germany, Netherlands of course, Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Sweden, China and Thailand.
Things are obvious: the only system that has seen prostitution decrease is the Nordic model for it is a true abolitionist policy. Any public policy that would leave out of its reach one of the three major parts of the prostitution system is bound to fail. Sweden has challenged the major part of the system, which is the john. No johns, no prostitutes, no trafficking, no pimps. It’s as simple as that – and it took me ten years to reach that conclusion!
Regulation is such a failure that the Netherlands are going backwards (it’s discussed in Australia and Spain too). The two countries that seem unwilling to change, and even almost happy with the money the mob brings and the explosion of trafficking, are Germany and the state of Nevada – where brothels are publicly traded on the stocks market. Always have in mind that the sex industry represents billions of dollars, mobs are making their major profit from it but states also pick up the crumbs in a legal system via the taxes brothels must pay – it also has a cost to put in the hands of mobsters an entire segment of activity.
Besides those ‘empirical’ observations, I really think that prostitution is a major political issue, not just a ‘moral’ one. I just cannot imagine to call a society ‘humane’ or ‘gender-equal’ as long as you can rent body parts of people, and not just that: a society where it is considered as ‘normal’ that the most advantaged (‘rich white male’ to put it mildly) can rent body parts of the poorest (women) for their selfish pleasure. There is no such thing as the ‘right’ to prostitute oneself, only the one to never ever be reduced to become merchandise.
What does your work in this area involve?
Well as scholars, I think our ‘duty’ is to give the public access to resources and information the media don’t. Last summer, I was so pissed off with all that pro-prostitution lobbying (and I was attacked too – because they’re very angry when you don’t comply) that’s when I decided to go underground. I changed my real name and never give location information. That also protects me from the ‘Small World’ of University, which is very hypocritical, and they ruthlessly bash their politically committed members in the name of science. In so doing, I protect myself and my career. At that time, I decided to create a scoop-it, www.scoop.it/u/fee-ministe, and share online all I could – there’s more than 1,000 links to documents, articles, studies, movies, etc. And most of all, I did fifteen specific sections: for instance, it seemed to me very important to compile and put together all the survivors testimonies that can be found on the web (and there’s so much more; so many archives in paper).
Because you realise those hundreds of women are never given access to the main medias, unlike the two same ‘happy hookers’ who spend their lives on TV and radio shows, tweeting, Facebooking, blogging (when are they actually ‘sex-working’ exactly?) Anyway, I realised that we were facing a multi-billion dollar industry that is intensely lobbying (the media, the politicians, the details are amazing) while the abolitionist groups are mocked and with so little financial resources. So, I thought in doing so I could help. Now, thanks to the internet, I believe you can be more easily heard, and share and connect. (see www.survivorsconnect.wordpress.com)
My scoop-it (great curation tool by the way) is quite a success because there’s been more than 21,000 hits since the end of July 2012, and it’s got me a huge amount of trolling, attacks, insults (always a good sign, it means you’re disturbing). I was so relieved I had changed my name because this is always so violent; you never get used to insults and harassment. Last point – I did it in English and French because the legislation is about to change in Belgium, France and Canada. I’m optimistic about France (and Ireland too, things are looking good), not Belgium nor Canada, but I’m thrilled that the Dutch have publically recognised the failure of a system they, or perhaps I should say their sex lobby, have been pushing in international organisations for two decades. I remember how they were ‘selling’ their ‘sexual revolution paradise’ in 1997. Now we can see and study the absolute disaster of it. In 1999, Sweden was setting the opposite. I’m not saying it’s perfect but after more than ten years, you don’t need to have three PhDs to observe the difference.
What legal improvements or changes would help to abolish prostitution?
Well like I said, the Swedish system is not perfect but it is the ‘least worst’ if I could say. In Sweden, prostitution and associated criminality have significantly decreased. They have put a lot of money in helping women to exit and promoting anti-sexist education along with john shaming.
A very significant statistic: in 1999, most of the population was against this policy. Now they are a majority for it and they won’t go backwards. The first measure is to absolutely decriminalise women involved in prostitution, to offer them roofs, security, healthcare, and a realistic alternative range of jobs and education to get out of it on a long term basis. Then, of course, the police must work much harder to arrest pimps and traffickers. The johns must be addressed as the major part of the system and made responsible for the harm. Because as long as the demand exists, the trafficking and coercion will go on and on; that’s what the failure of regulation shows us: if you promote the demand and access to women’s bodies, the demand grows, there is never enough ‘local supply’ of poor women or pimped girls and you must ‘import’ that: trafficking.
I think states are also very responsible via their policies (that is lack of) of sex education or banning hate speech towards women (including pornography). Prostitution exists because women (half of the population) are still considered as commodities and not as whole human beings. It’s a total failure for a so-called ‘civilization’. There is a huge effort to make in education, change of mentalities, laws against sexism, sexual violences, etc.
For anyone else who wants to be involved, what can other people do to help?
Abolitionist associations need you. They need people’s time volunteering and donations.
What are your plans for the future?
I’m desperately trying to finish putting my works into a book. I never have the time because I’m constantly curating my scoop-it!
Recommended websites/further reading:
Follow me on Twitter @LiseBouvet
- A French translation of this interview can be read here.