by Sneha Singh

Rachel Moran is an author, international speaker who talks globally on prostitution and trafficking. She is also the founder of SPACE (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment) International. In her book ‘Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution’, she shares her story and experiences when she was pushed into prostitution at the age of 15 and her escape from that world at the age of 22.

Speaking with FemLens, Rachel shares her thoughts on the pro-sex work movement, the problem behind the word ‘sex work’ and the idea of ‘consent’ in prostitution.

Q1. Pulling back the veil on prostitution and the narrative promoted through the pro sex work movement, how true is the picture that is presented which says prostitution is liberating and empowering?

You have to ask yourself, if prostitution is so liberating and empowering, where are all the men? If prostitution was liberating and empowering, we women would have to fight our way into brothels rather than fight our way out of them. This is a direct inversion of the truth. Prostitution has to be misrepresented before it can be defended, which should tell you all you need to know.

Q2. The support towards the pro sex work movement is often based on the ideas of economic development, independence and autonomy of choice. Do these ideas hold any water when we talk about the real struggles of a sex worker (what is the right word for us to use when speaking about this topic?)?

More linguistic acrobatics. In an arena of actual economic development, independence and autonomy of choice prostitution wouldn’t get a look in. Women get drawn into prostitution because of a scarcity of these things, not an abundance of them.

Q3. Please share with our readers your views on a woman’s bodily autonomy in prostitution and the idea of ‘consent’. Is the exchange of money a proof of consent in prostitution?

It’s just the opposite. The exchange of money is evidence that mutuality doesn’t exist here to begin with. If it did, there’d be nobody getting paid. We’ve always known this, but it was interesting to hear a German punter say so in his own words exactly recently in Berlin.

Finally, the punters are corroborating us. They took their time, but they got there in the end.

Read the recently published six country report on the sex trade from the perspective of the socially invisible ‘freiers’.

Q4. What does consent really mean in the world of prostitution? Does that even exist?

The inaccuracy of the word ‘consent’ causes problems in most conversations about sex and sexual behaviour. It causes particular problems in conversations about sexual assault, but nowhere does it do more damage than in the area of prostitution. This is because it obscures the nature of prostitution itself. If sex was understood as it should be, as necessitating mutuality, we wouldn’t think to discuss it in terms of consent. Sex is a matter of mutuality, not a matter of consent. We need to shift that language precisely because of the damage it is doing.

Q5. When the idea of prostitution is glorified, the real issues get brushed under the carpet. What harm can legalising prostitution cause? And what effect will it have on the sex trafficking industry (are there already examples of countries where things have changed for the worse)?

Anyone who wants to understand the damage of legalised prostitution need look no further then Germany. It has earned its name as the ‘Bordello of Europe’ with its industrial scale sexual abuse industry.

Q6. Does decriminalisation of the sex trade really benefit women? Is abolition the only progressive solution?

There are a lot of well-intentioned people who truly believe decriminalisation will benefit the women, because they don’t understand that under this model all aspects of the sex trade are decriminalised, all the punters, all the pimps, all the brothel keepers, all the other third-party profiteers. The trade swells immediately and enormously, trafficking surges and prostitution spirals out of all control, in part because pimps have been protected from the law and in part because every man in the nation has been given the green light to go ahead and pay to use women’s bodies. It’s total madness, the worst thing you can do for society more generally and for the women themselves.

Q7. In your opinion, experience and knowledge of the situation, what do you think are the main causes that allow prostitution to exist? Are they personal, political, social?

They are all of those. It is a matter of basic decency to understand that another person’s body is their own and that you have no business using their economic vulnerability or any other coercive factor in order to access their body as if it were or somehow could be disconnected from the humanity of the person who inhabits it. Sadly, for many men their sexual selfishness is more important than their sense of decency. That’s where the law needs to step in. We need the abolitionist model for the same reason we need laws against domestic violence and rape.