Yesterday I met with two sex workers so we could discuss our plans for Sekswerk Nederland, the sex workers’ rights organisation we founded in 2014. Already we’ve met with politicians, attended meetings, been on tv, been quoted in national newspapers and have developed a good network within the Dutch sex workers community. For 2015 we’re even more ambitious, and I honestly feel we will be able to make a difference. One of the most interesting things, for me anyway, is how easy it is for people to change their mind once they find out that sex workers are.. people. Just people who order coffee, go travelling with  their boyfriend, have opinions, make choices. One of the women told me she regularly has the following conversation:

“But.. what if you get a customer that you do not want to have sex with, you really do not want to have sex with?”
“Then I say no and we don’t have a session”
“You can do that?!” MIND BLOWN

There’s something profoundly perverse about many of the ‘grim truth behind prostitution’ and ‘what nobody is telling you, the shocking truth revealed’ articles, documentaries and other rescue stories. “It’s like porn” another activist said, and I replied “I wish”. Porn is honest about the fact that it’s fiction, that its intention is to arouse. Rescue stories read like erotica, but they sensationalise sex workers’ lives at their expense and commodify the experiences of actual victims. They are obsessed with how many penises in filthy surroundings and rape by their stepfather and forced abortions and getting peed on and condomless blowjobs. While sex workers and sex work activists want to talk about human rights, international law, respecting the agency of other adults and stopping violence, rescue fetishists get all flushed as they emphasise that thousands of women get raped with objects and are forced to drink buckets of sperm and they get tattoos so everyone can see they are a whore. It’s so inappropriate. They ignore and silence actual sex workers so they can enjoy their rescue-fetish unhindered.

I’m not morally opposed to getting a certain kick out of hearing about the misery of others. It’s not something to be proud of, but you know, ‘based on a true story’ sells, we gossip about the misfortune of others and many people enjoy a little pityporn now and then. Kinksters get into heated arguments with each other over the question whether it’s acceptable to read true stories about rape and kidnapping as inspiration for their own fantasies. I get conflicted over that sometimes. But you certainly cross a line when you start to use others without their consent for your own sexual gratification. The rescue industry exploits others for financial gain, which is morally reprehensible, but their non-consensual use of vulnerable women for their perverse sexual preferences is a grim truth about the rescue industry that really nobody is telling you.

6 thoughts on “The grim truth

  1. jan

    i agree that not a lot or close to nothing is told about the choices and lives sex workers have. yet i hope you also know (and im quite sure you do) that not every sex worker has the possibility to decline a costumer. some women are working in the industry because their choices in life have been very limited, because they are marginalized eg. poor often combined with being queer e.g trans… the people you are talking about and with whom you are talking are a certain kind of segment within the wide range of sexwork. i think its important to acknowledge that not every woman working in the sex industry, is the same and has the same agency. and while i agree on creating counter narratives that de-stigmatize sex work and foremost sexworkers i think its also important that you acknowledge that there are people for which the agency regarding their working-conditions are so limited that they are unsafe especially psychologically. focusing on one segment of sex workers is okey but i´d appreciate it very much if you could also mention and think about women that are not the ´middle´and ´higher´ segment within the ranges of sex-work. and with mentioning i don´t mean to victimize or stigmatize but to be clear about the complex issues of being poor or/ and otherwise marginalized and working as a sex worker under conditions that might or might not allow the choice to e.g. decline a costumer or decline certain practices etc.

  2. Marijke Vonk Post author

    “the people you are talking about and with whom you are talking are a certain kind of segment within the wide range of sexwork”

    You have no idea who I have been talking with. I understand that people who do work that does not require high levels of education don’t always have many options available to them, especially in service work, the garment industry and agriculture. But research has shown that ‘even’ poor people make rational choices, get into sex work for rational reasons and actually often choose sex work to escape abuses in other sectors.

    I am aware not every person working in the sex industry is an educated, healthy, white, heterosexual, cisgendered woman with a high social-economic status who loves her job and works as an autonomous, independent entrepreneur. But nobody deserves to be treated as less-than-adults with less agency, nobody deserves to be ‘done to’ by rescue-fetishists, nobody deserves to have their freedom restricted and nobody deserves to be abused in the rescue industry, no matter how ‘guilty’ they are of being trans, black, uneducated, gay or poor.

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