Tanja Rahms Speech at the International Abolitionist Congress, Paris 2014

After 3 years in prostitution, I almost jumped out a window – from the third floor. That was how prostitution made me feel, – that I had nothing to live for. I had been sexually violated so many times, that there was almost nothing left of me – neither inside, or outside. I was nothing. I was worth nothing. I felt completely useless. I was a machine for other people’s amusement, their sexual desires and their perverse exploitation.

I spent 9 years in therapy, to get where I am today. And even though I persist in telling about the violence experienced in prostitution I still live with the traumas and the re-traumatizing. But we, as survivors have to. We have to keep on telling about the violence, so no one will ever forget or be manipulated into thinking, that prostitution is even close to something you can define as sexwork.

Prostitution is a massive industry, using and abusing people in desperate life-circumstances. It’s a social phenomenon in which brothel-owners, pimps and traffickers achieve the biggest economic benefits on behalf of other people’s desperation for basic survival and economical security. The buyers are the direct cause of the exploitation that takes place in prostitution. They are the ones demanding for the supply of new, young, innocent girls and women.

Using the term sexwork is a way to glorify what happens in prostitution and it’s a way to seduce society to think, that prostitution is a free choice, and that you can compare it with other professions. The term “Sexwork” intends to normalize and ignore the harm prostitution causes. Using the term sex work is a violation of basic human rights, because the term sexwork intends to remove focus from the harm, exploitation and abuse, that takes place in prostitution, rather than to illuminate the commercialization, that has become more and more prevalent, especially when it comes to women’s bodies and sexuality.

The prostitution-lobby talks about prostitution as a part of women’s sexual liberation. They state that the choice of going into prostitution is individual, and that it is an expression of women’s right to do with their body as they please. They describe prostitution as a way for women to choose for themselves, when it comes to the capitalization of human sexuality. The problem is, that they choose on behalf of all women in the world. – They choose to capitalize women’s sexuality in general.

I see no link between prostitution and sexual liberation. I consider prostitution as oppressive and as a lack of recognition that women have a right to a life where their sexuality is not commercialized, and where society takes care of the people who are exploited, abused and marginalized in prostitution. Society should take responsibility for people, who don’t have the choice, and the women, who don’t have a voice in the debate of prostitution. Women, who actually have a choice, have the choice to choose something else. Many women don’t have that choice.

Prostitution is a buyer’s market. Prostitution is based on the conditions of the buyers. Prostitution exists in the hands of criminals. Prostitution is an area that houses trafficked people, vulnerable people, self-harming people, poor people and people in different kinds of abuse. The majority of the people in prostitution can be divided into these groups.

On the 18th of November I launch a new survivor-group in Denmark. None of the women, whom I have been in contact with, recognize this picture sex-lobbyists have painted of prostitution being sexwork or sexual liberation. These women talk about prostitution as a part of survival, destructive behaviour and the lack of choices.

Prostitution can’t be compared to either sex or work because the sexual services take place only at the buyer’s premises, and because no legal rights or union rights will ever ensure prostitutes protection from the violence and the sexual assaults that take place in prostitution.

A Danish survey from last year shows that men, who buy sex, get younger and younger. There is a link between the normalization of women being objectified and the liberal attitude towards buying sex. The acceptance of the commercialization of women’s bodies reduces women into things that can be bought and sold.

Survivors of prostitution have seen and experienced how the buyers show a condescending view of, and lack of respect for the women they buy. This is because sex-buyers can remain completely anonymous and not be held accountable for their actions. We are talking about nice husbands, loving and caring daddies who show sides of their personality that are hidden from everyone else in their normal life, sides, which are only shown to people at the bottom of society, the ones who are most vulnerable, ashamed and marginalized. The prostitutes.

I have never, not in my 3 years in prostitution, or in the 4 years I have been out public, met anyone who was in prostitution based on free choices. None of the women I have been in contact with talk about prostitution as sexual liberation. And none of them talk about sex, pleasure or healthy lives, during prostitution.

What they talk about is the damage, the damage that came as a shock while they were still in, or after they left prostitution. They talk about depression, anxiety, thoughts about suicide, PTSD, major problems with the ability to engage in intimate relationships, relationships with men, and especially problems with intimacy and sexuality.

The acceptance of an industry where millions of people worldwide are abused and exploited is the same as ignoring all women’s rights to a life with safe conditions, without being objectified or commercialized. Prostitution affects all women and not only women who are in prostitution. A society’s acceptance of prostitution is an oppression of all women as equal human beings.

I find it interesting that the prostitution-debate constantly concerns prostitutes and their free choices. Isn’t it time to focus on the buyers and put the spotlight on those who systematically expose people to violence and sexual assaults? Where are they? Why don’t they talk about their choices of buying sexual services? Why don’t they speak out more often in public? Why don’t they tell their wives and their families what they do? Why don’t they tell about their aggressive behaviour towards prostitutes? Why don’t they tell about their violent actions towards prostitutes? Why don’t they tell about their constant attempts to exceed the boundaries and limits of the prostitutes?

Because they know, that no society would accept these actions, if they were told by the buyers. But when women with experiences from prostitution, tell about these actions, it’s difficult to make people believe, that this is really going on in prostitution.

Prostitution has nothing to do with the right to decide what to do with your own body. Actually, you don’t decide anything in prostitution. Well, maybe you decide a price, maybe you won’t do anal, and maybe you won’t do it without a condom. But when it comes to boundaries, they are to be slightly exceeded, and the buyers will do all they can, to exceed them, because this is one of the things that really turn them on. It turns them on to see how easy it is, to get the prostitute to do things she didn’t want or agree to, because he just had the right amount of money.

This is exploitation – this is male power. This is what some people call sexwork. I have never heard about any other occupation, where you have to dissociate yourself from what you do. But in prostitution, you have to dissociate, because no human being can take that much violation.

Prostitution has never been about the prostitutes; Prostitution is about males’ right to violate women. Buying sex degrades the value of all women.

Ban the purchase of sex – this is a question about equality and human rights, if not for you and me, then for our children, and the safety of our daughters. They haven’t asked for this kind of violation, and we have the ability to protect them from being objectified, commercialized, commodified and reduced into machines, subjected to being male’s sexual property.

No one dreams about being a prostitute. Prostitution is not a choice. It’s a lack of opportunities. Place the responsibility where it belongs. Let the buyers be accountable for their actions by criminalizing them. This is the only way to protect the people who are exploited in the sex industry.

Text and Photo were first pusblished on http://tanjarahm.dk.