Footballers, Prostitutes and Feminists

This week the story of Ched Evans, the Sheffield United footballer convicted of rape, has been all over the news. Debate has been centred around whether on release from prison he should get his old job back, and the feminist position has been largely that no, he shouldn’t: as a highly-paid footballer he has a privileged position as a role model to young people, especially boys, and his reinstatement would be to minimise the damage he has done and to reinforce a structural misogyny within football. There is broad agreement amongst feminists that the message this would send out would be detrimental to women as a whole.

Judging from the accounts of the case I have read, the 19 year-old victim was picked up in a drunken state by a man who then texted his friend that he’d ‘got a bird’. She was then taken to a pre-booked hotel room, where the first man had sex with her, and then the friend turned up and also had sex with her whilst some more friends filmed it. This part was rape because she was too drunk to consent. When she woke up in the morning she was alone in a strange room, wet with urine, and unable to remember what had happened the night before. She went to the police, and examination confirmed the sexual activity that had taken place.

These are the bare facts of the case, without projecting any assumptions about the victim’s feelings, which we can’t know. I am sure though that a lot of women reading this will be able to fill in the ‘feelings’ bit themselves, drawing on bad sexual experiences, or worse, in their own lives. Leaving aside the rape part of the story, these two men picked up a woman, used her for sex, and then left her on her own when they had finished with her. They planned it beforehand.

What I would like to know, from feminists who are pro-‘sex work’, is whether it would have made a tangible difference to their view of the men’s behaviour in this case, if they had paid money for what they did? Would the presence of a few crisp twenties on the bedside table make a substantive difference to what happened in that hotel bedroom? Would it have made a difference to the way the woman felt the next morning? Because this is essentially what happens in prostitution – the using of a woman for sex, without having to worry about her pleasure, or even her consent (”the money takes care of consent” right…?). In other words, is this the kind of male behaviour that can be legitimised by money: does money make it ok?

If it doesn’t: if you still feel that the kind of male behaviour on display should be discouraged in a civilised society, if not actively criminalised, then the issue of ‘sex-worker’ rights becomes more complicated. Respect for, and advocacy of, ‘sex-work’ is an intrinsic endorsement of pimps and punters too. You also cannot help but accidentally endorse the pimps and punters of prostituted and trafficked women and girls, and give them more power, because the rebranding of prostitution as ‘sex work’ lends it a sanitised respectability it otherwise would not have. I think the behaviour of those men in that hotel bedroom replicates the behaviour of a lot of men with prostitutes (it is not unknown for a footballer to book a hotel room and order a prostitute to go with it). If we can see that prostitute in the same way as we see that drunken teenager: with *outrage* that she can be treated like a piece of meat and then discarded, then how as feminists can we accept prostitution as a ‘job’ like any other?

I fully believe in the freedom of individuals to do as they wish with their own bodies, but when that choice is monetised, then in a capitalist society with its entrenched inequalities, it becomes the business of us all. There are laws on what we can and cannot sell, determined by morals and ethics. We already have laws  on the limits of bodily choice – surrogacy, organ harvesting and assisted dying for example. A judgement is made concerning the basic rights of humanity, the right to bodily integrity, the right to be treated as a human being. Often the law is there because it recognises the potential for exploitation that occurs when you introduce a monetary reward: the law protects the most vulnerable, those least able to protect themselves: often the poorest, most marginalised in society, often women. The fact that ‘some people like it’ makes no difference to this argument. Why is it so difficult to take a consistent feminist stance where prostitution is concerned? I believe it is because it’s about sex. The insults people can hurl at you for taking a stance on anything to do with sex are often too painful to contemplate because they drive at your own private sexual insecurities. You will become all those things you really don’t want people to think you are: a prude, a sex-negative feminist, a whorephobe.

Some of the supporters of Ched Evans think they have irrefutable proof that he didn’t rape anyone: he could have ‘any woman he wanted’ so why would he need to rape? I disagree. I think the fact that he could have any woman he wanted makes it more likely that he would rape. When you have that high level of entitlement I think it is less likely that you will be able to recognise ‘lack of consent’ when it stares you in the face. Famously there have been professional footballers who cannot stop having sex with prostitutes, despite having a *gorgeous* wife or girlfriend back home. I think there is a power thing going on here, as much as a sex thing: the rise in the numbers of men visiting prostitutes has happened at the same time as an increase in women’s (comparative) sexual freedom. So there is more sex available for men in general: casual sex, hook-up sex, first date sex – but maybe what there is *less* of is non-consensual sex (rape exists even in marriage now! Imagine!). And maybe that is what prostitutes and drunken teenagers are for?

I would like pro-‘sex work’ feminists to look at this young woman’s experience and to make the connection between her and the prostituted women who experience this, and much worse, every day. If you have ever hashtagged ‘IBelieveHer’ about a rape victim, then please do the same with #ListenToSurvivors – they are not believed either, and they suffer too, and it hurts them every time a feminist uses the term ‘sex work’ to describe their torture. I will not use the term ‘sex work’ out of respect for survivors, and it’s time to stand up and be counted and to face the inevitable backlash from the very rich and powerful lobby that is the sex industry. I hope a few of my feminist friends will join me.

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14 thoughts on “Footballers, Prostitutes and Feminists

  1. rmott62 October 21, 2014 / 9:45 am

    Thank-you for not using the term sex worker, for it is the language of the sex trade and used to make the violence, that is the norm, invisible. It is very important that punters are everyman – we must see that it more than an issue of football or fame. Punters are in your families, punters work alongside, punters are the men you choose to socialise with. Most punters are very ordinary and likeable. This is coz they can put the violence they do to the prostituted into a box – and forget about it – for they considered the prostituted to be sexual goods to be used and then thrown away.

  2. questionsforus October 22, 2014 / 2:23 pm

    Reblogged this on Questions for Us and commented:
    After listening to the stories of survivors – I will NOT use the term ‘Sex Worker’ to devalue the prostituted.
    This is a great piece with a very valid question.

  3. Patrick C October 23, 2014 / 6:33 am

    This is a really complicated question in respect to the idea of money potentially legitimising the sex, creating the consent. From my personal point of view I make two points, if we, regardless of gender treated people with respect and dignity we would go a long way to changing bad behaviour in our community. The second point is (and maybe I’m old fashioned) but for me sex is about both people enjoying it together and pleasuring each other. So to take advantage of someone when they don’t have their full faculties and cant truly consent and hopefully enjoy the experience is in fact not only rape but also an empty experience for the person perpetrating the act. Sex in these circumstances is about one persons power over an other and to film it perpetuates that power. I believe that when this person gets out of jail he is entitled to have a “normal” job but he has forfeited his right to be a high payed footballer. Whatever people may like to think young children, especially boys look up to these footballers as role models. This man should not be back in that position.. The woman he raped has to live with the consequences of this mans actions for the rest of her life and so should he because without doubt the psychological impacts of being raped will live with her and be in her thoughts forever. I would hazard a guess that that is much more traumatic for her than him.

  4. Gosh Darn It October 23, 2014 / 11:28 am

    Wow. I find this whole article patronising, disempowering and full of self righteous hyperboly and entrenched misogyny. Sex trafficking is a horrific problem, but to suggest all prostitution operates under these oppressive conditions is insulting to everyone concerned; it trivialises the life experiences of those who have endured sex slavery and insinuates that women only have a right to voice their opinions and make decisions about their lives if it fits in with the dominant opinion.

    • Not The News in Briefs October 23, 2014 / 8:23 pm

      I think you’re wrong. I think to differentiate trafficking from other prostitution, as though there are two distinct branches of the trade, one of which is ‘horrific’ and the other which is presumably ‘ok’, shows a lack of understanding of consent, coercion, and basic psychology. Between the two extremes that you present as mutually exclusive there are a thousand shades of grey. The rates of PTSD, drug and alcohol addiction,childhood abuse, mental health and other problems amongst the prostituted, show that even those that ‘choose’ it are negatively affected in serious ways.The fact that studies show consistently that 85 – 95% of prostitutes want out (and this does not include the worst cases where the victims have no access to a MORI poll) tells all you need to know. Can you tell me what is ‘entrenched misogyny’ about the desire to see all women have better choices than this?

  5. Jennifer @UnchartedWorlds October 26, 2014 / 12:53 pm

    “the money takes care of consent”?
    I find that sentence extremely worrying, and I’m wondering if you’ve fully thought through the implications of what you’re skimming over in those few words.
    Do you mean to suggest that having the money to pay someone for something removes the obligation to respect their boundaries? & that (in the example here) women who offer to take money for some kind of sexual activity thereby automatically forfeit the right to negotiate what they are and aren’t willing to do for that money?
    Or if you meant something different, please could you spell out more clearly what you did mean?
    Thanks in advance for any further thoughts.

    • Not The News in Briefs October 26, 2014 / 2:49 pm

      I meant that to read as a sarcastic comment, because it’s the opposite of what I believe. I’m sorry if this wasn’t clear. I was trying to highlight the fact that, for some abusive men, that is the truth: they don’t care if the woman is trafficked or otherwise coerced because the act of paying money, in their minds, takes away any obligation to care. Women always have the right to negotiate what they will or won’t do, regardless of any money involved. I hope that’s cleared that up.

      • unchartedworlds October 27, 2014 / 1:36 pm

        Thanks. Yes, I don’t think it’s at all clear in the article that you were trying to say “some abusive men think this”; it was part of a sentence following the words “this is essentially what happens in prostitution”.

        I agree we need to be consistently clear that, as you say, “Women always have the right to negotiate what they will or won’t do, regardless of any money involved.”

        It’s not actually _only_ men who fail to uphold that principle; the same structure of assumptions, where the disregard of consent and negotiation is _inherent_ to trading sex for money, correlates with “Well, what did she expect?” when a woman in a sex trade context is assaulted/raped. That’s a type of victim-blaming which can come from women as well as men. I think we need to be careful not to let its framework go by.

        =

        Some other things I was thinking, as I pondered your article some more…

        =

        On re-reading, I found my attention snagged by the phrase “Leaving aside the rape part of the story”.

        In a way, I feel it’s not for me to say what the story is “about”; it belongs to a woman whom I don’t know (and I get the impression you don’t either).

        [Thinking about this, I realise I’m not entirely happy with using her life for theoretical discussions without her consent – please correct me if I’m wrong and she has somewhere expressed a willingness to have her experience retold and hypothesised about in this way.

        If she’s ever reading this: thank you for speaking up in the first place at enormous cost to yourself, and I’m sorry if this discussion here has caused you any extra pain.]

        But in the way you’ve chosen to summarise her experience here, surely it is a story “about” a rape? In what sense can we “leave that aside”? Wouldn’t that erasure be in itself a kind of narrative violence?

        I would suggest that the central part of the story is _not_ that the sex was with two men, and in a hotel room, and that the men went away afterwards (superficially resembling both a kind of paid sex and a kind of consensual-but-often-stigmatised casual sex). Those are elements of the story, yes (as far as I know): but the key part is that the sex and the filming happened _regardless of her own intent_.

        “Leaving aside the rape part of the story” we would have a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT STORY.

        =

        On the hypothetical question you frame in the original piece: Some people do use the presence of money to create doubt around what women themselves say they have or haven’t consented to. But I hope that you or I would not be among them, and that we would primarily listen to what a survivor of rape or assault said themself about what happened and how they experienced it. As Confide say (http://confideinfo.com/why-have-we-set-this-up/): “Our position is – uncomplicatedly – that what service-users say about their own lives is true.”

        =

        About the phrase “sex work”: As long as you believe that using that phrase is a form of “endorsing the pimps of trafficked girls”, obviously you’re not going to want to use it. I.e. it makes sense to me how you’ve reasoned from that belief to that conclusion.

        At the same time, it’s a term self-chosen by some stigmatised and often marginalised people, many of whom are themselves survivors of rape, assault and/or other abuse. It seems to me that perhaps you “owe it to them” to understand the politics behind _their_ use of the term before you characterise it as a form of “la la la, everything in the garden is lovely” – let alone as an endorsement of the abuse of young girls.

        I would suggest reading more from feminist/womanist activists who call themselves sex workers, to get a sense of the territory that expression came from, and their analyses of poverty, capitalism, women’s labour, migration, objectification, health etc.

        I’m reminded of a tweet from SWOU the other day (https://twitter.com/SexWorkerOU/status/526079457933918208):

        “When we argue for rights, people respond “are you denying abuse happens?” No, we know first hand that abuse happens; hence *wanting rights*.”

        (not to suggest that a rights-based approach to safety & wellbeing is the only possible one. but I won’t get into that right now.)

        =

        On consent in the context of trading sex, I wonder if you’ve already seen these two essays (& their comments threads)? – I recommend them:
        http://titsandsass.com/getting-away-with-hating-it-consent-in-the-context-of-sex-work/
        http://titsandsass.com/i-did-not-consent-to-being-tokenized/ (that second one is especially important on acknowledging the difference between, on the one hand, paid sex experienced as a sometimes-crappy job, and on the other hand, paid sex experienced as repeated violation.)

        Also, to get more into nuances of acting, authenticity, & what is consented to, etc:

        As background, I’d also recommend this report based on interviews with 100 migrants selling sex in the UK:
        https://metranet.londonmet.ac.uk/fms/MRSite/Research/iset/Nick%20Mai/Migrant%20Workers%20in%20the%20UK%20Sex%20Industry%20Project%20Final%20Policy%20Relevant%20Report.pdf

        =

        On a personal note: I hope I’ve not been so pointy here as to come over like I’m trying to “get at you”. This is difficult territory, and my intention is more like “in focusing on one thing that’s important, don’t forget or miss or accidentally erase these other aspects which are also important”. Thanks for the opportunity to put into words some things I’ve been mulling over for a while, & I’m open to argument in return if you feel I’ve got something wrong.

  6. Not The News in Briefs October 28, 2014 / 10:12 pm

    Thank you for taking the time to respond in such detail. I haven’t had time yet to read the links, but I will. I take your point entirely about the actual victim in this case. It was out of respect for her that I chose a very plain, fact-based language to tell that story: I did not want it to be in any way emotive or a projection of my own feelings, I did not feel I had the right to assume anything about her or her feelings. I felt I needed to use the story though because it was the feminist response to it that got me thinking about the contrast between that and the feminist divisions around the subject of the sex industry. I wanted to put aside the ‘rape’ part of the story, only because I don’t think all prostitution is rape and so I didn’t want to make that comparison. I just wanted the element of being ‘used’ to be the salient part, as this can obviously happen in many different arenas, including within relationships, and many women can relate to that feeling. I hoped to show that we shouldn’t expect any woman to to have to experience that kind of feeling, and worse, on a regular basis, in order to survive, and that as feminists we should be together on tackling it.
    I am mortified that it could have come across that I think ‘money takes care of consent’, so I have slightly edited that line to hopefully make it more clear what I intended it to say.In writing this post I was reacting to and criticising some of the aspects of ‘choice feminism’ which seems to me a little too uncritical of the sex industry, in its prioritising of individual choice over collective aims. In my own life experience and in the reading and listening to survivors I have done, I feel strongly that the sex industry is harmful to women as a whole, including those who work within it, and I would like to see it disappear altogether, but you’re right: the women surviving within it deserve to have a say in what affects their lives directly. I dislike the term ‘sex worker’ but in this post did not want to use the term ‘the prostituted’ as it would be offensive to those who don’t identify as such, so I tried to use a neutral word and in doing so probably offended everyone. Just because the language is difficult doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to discuss it though. Thank you for being polite in your objections: I expected worse!

  7. Poppy October 29, 2014 / 11:12 am

    Your article seems to be pushing the idea that sex workers can’t be raped. Of course it would still be rape even if they had left money, because she was not in a fit state to consent to either sex or any form of financial transaction.

    • Not The News in Briefs October 29, 2014 / 4:16 pm

      Yes of course that would still be rape, it would be so for any woman in any profession and there should be no distinction drawn. For many prostituted women though, the part of the experience that wasn’t technically the rape would still be experienced as a violation, and this is what I wanted to get across.

  8. roslynholcomb November 1, 2014 / 4:28 pm

    Reblogged this on the one who writes and commented:
    I’ve always had a problem with the phrase “sex worker.” I’ve used it in an attempt to be more respectful toward those who are paid money for sex. But I realize now that my effort was misguided because in my effort to respect the people, I also gave credence to the act and I have no desire to do that. Prostitution is horrific and deadly and I never want to sanitize or clean it up in any way. I will not call a woman a prostitute, as that takes away her humanity. I’m going to have to work on a new term, but I’m not there yet.

    • stephaniedaviesarai November 4, 2014 / 2:43 pm

      ‘Prostitute’ is actually a neutral word which is simply the noun of the verb, ie ‘to prostitute oneself’ means to sell oneself. So the word itself is not offensive, but it takes on the meaning of the person who says it, so it’s been used to have a derogatory meaning. Survivors would like us to use ‘prostituted’ to make clear that they were acted upon rather than it being seen as a free choice. I have heard those in support of the term ‘sex workers’ accuse those against using this term of ‘slut-shaming’ or being ‘whoephobic.’ To me, these expressions are far more offensive, as ‘slut’ and ‘whore’ are derogatory words in themselves.

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