Monday, December 28, 2009

Harassment

Main

I want to return to the paradox of how prostitutes can have so much different views about their work and their clients. Why do some prostitutes put their clients on a pedestal while others say the clients are pigs or beasts? A question which puzzled me for a long time. Actually I have read the answer a long time ago, but I forgot it, I was focused too much on human trafficking. The answers are given by Metje Blaak and Jo Doezema. I will provide some quotes by them at the end of this post and also name the sources.

They are both Dutch prostitutes who have worked in the Netherlands. If I understand them completely, then it is true that clients aren’t the nicest people and that clients continuously want to transgress the boundaries of the prostitutes. They continuously try how far they can go. Only some clients are nice. Jo Doezema explains that she paints a more positive picture of prostitution because she has been pushed in a defensive position by the outside world. So that’s the answer to my question: the prostitutes who say they like their work lie, the ones who say that they don’t like their work tell the truth.

However, Jo Doezema also explains that although working in prostitution can in fact often be humiliating it doesn’t mean that it is traumatizing or that it will destroy you. This could be true because that’s what a couple of Dutch studies have found: there were no differences in distress levels between the prostitutes interviewed and people who visit a doctor (The first five words of the two reports are ‘de sociale positie van prostituees’, just use google, no need to put a link).

Radical feminist Sheila Jeffreys explains in her book (also on books.google.com) ‘The industrial Vagina: The political Economy of the Global Sex Trade’ (2009) that Jo Doezema blames herself for having ‘to suffer unwanted sex acts which would be called sexual harassment or sexual assault outside the prostitution context’ (page 25, she actually also quotes from the same source that I use).The point Sheila Jeffreys makes is interesting. According to her prostitution is like sexual harassment in the workplace, which is then in fact true like Jo Doezema and Metje Blaak have made clear. Obviously sexual harassment should be prohibited. It is actually prohibited in many countries. But if prostitution is often sexual harassment, isn’t then prostitution in general already practically forbidden? On the other hand like Jo Doezema has explained, it isn’t traumatizing or damaging, so it is also harmless. So then, if you are extremely consistent sexual harassment should be allowed because it’s harmless. So workers in general just have to accept sexual harassment as a harmless part of their work.

(Sorry, I'm becoming really cynical here but Sheila Jeffreys has genuinely raised a very difficult point for those who recognize prostiution as work)

Another point. Let’s pretend, that I am a client of prostitutes. As a matter of fact, I am a client of prostitutes. How far can I go? Well, really far, because it’s harmless what happens to the prostitute anyway, and I pay her so she gets sexually harassed by me and suffer unwanted sex acts. And she has to accept it as a part of her job. Silly isn’t it? I guess prostitutes are made of concrete.

But then what is allowed in prostitution without being harassment? Should a client ask for anything he's going to do? Perhaps. I actually grabbed the Latvian girl I visited by the butt without asking. She couldn´t speak Dutch or English. That was a difficult situation. But even if the prostitutes agrees and the act is unwanted from her point of view, is it then still a violation? Or just a part of the job that she has to accept? Like consensual sexual harassment. I must conclude this is a very difficult issue.

Returning to the issue of prostitutes not being distressed by their work; the point was made by Han Israëls, after analyzing a study by Nel Draijer in 1988, that sexual abuse during childhood didn't have very large negative effects on the affected people in itself. A Dutch article (Heilige verontwaardiging - over het boek van Han Israëls, by Dr Frans Gieles, 2001?) explains this issue. The article explains that Nel Draijer explains herself that because affective neglect is inherent to sexual abuse, the separate influence of experiences of abuse itself is comparatively small. My hypothesis is that the same mechanism might explain why prostitutes are not negatively affected by the sexual harassment of clients. The saying goes that many prostitutes in their childhood have been abused and neglected, and perhaps the same reason that the sexual abuse in childhood in itself doesn't cause any large negative effects is the same why their work in prostitution doesn't cause any large negative effects on them. So, perhaps being raped a 1000 times isn't more traumatizing than being raped a 100 times, or 10 times. Another possibility is that the negative effects of working in prostitution are somehow offset by positive effects like making more money than in other professions. To conclude; perhaps it is too dangerous using statistical evidence to conclude that a certain activity is harmless. So in the end, nobody has proved statistically that working in prostitution is harmless or not. (Nel Draijer's strange findings regarding the harmlessness of child sexual abuse also reflect a meta-analysis done by Bruce Rind and others in 1998, they basically find the same thing. Strange isn't it? Really weird)

Now what Metje Blaak and Jo Doezema have said, some quotes below..

Metje Blaak speaks in the book (quotes translated from Dutch):
Iemand moet het doen – over vuil werk en andere schone zaken (Joeri Boom, 1999) [Somebody has to do it – about dirty work and other clean issues]

Page 75:
Every now and then I received clients who were extremely dirty. They really smelled bad. A bath actually costs 50 guilders, but mostly I deducted some from the price. “Even if it is for free”, I thought sometimes, ”that guy has to become clean first”. There were some of them who sat down on my bed and left a brown stripe behind on the sheet.
Page 76-77:
You don’t do French kissing with a client. And anal sex is taboo. I wouldn’t even do that with my own man. My homosexual neighbour was sort of ready for a stoma. On sbs6 you regularly see porn stars tell how much fun and pleasant anal sex is. I don't understand any of that. They should show that on television firmly. Then the prostitutes will have it worse.

(...)

Clients are just like children. They want to grab everything. You sometimes have to deal with them harshly. Especially when they start biting in your nipples and touch your genitals with their fingernails. You’ll have to wean them off this habit. I trained my regular customers in such a way that they were kind. Women who are lured here and forced into prostitution, don’t know well how to protect themselves. That’s why I wrote Trukendoos [trick box], a handbook for whores. Then they can learn to recognize condom screws [‘condoomritselaars’].

These are dangerous folks. I was left with a tremendous gonorrhea once because of that. With their nails they tear the condom from the top if you don’t look. When aids arose I became really scared of them. When I didn’t trust someone, I made sure that I never stood with my back towards him and that he kept his little hands away from his willie.
Page 78-79:
Everything has become more expensive, but the price of a woman hasn’t gone up. Twenty years ago the windows cost fifty guilders. That’s what you still pay nowadays except that the men demand more and more because they see more and more porn. In the past you lifted your skirt a little and then they almost came. Now the ladies almost lie naked behind the glass.

(...)

There are whores who look down upon window prostitutes. They proudly say: I work at the Yab Yum. But it doesn’t matter at all. It’s just like cleaning the toilet. If you work in a three-star hotel or in a cafeteria, you are supposed to do the dirty work. Just look at the sick girls, the junkies. Up there come rich men who want to have a fuck for ten guilders. They want to completely humiliate such a girl and let her beg.
Jo Doezema speaks in the book:

Live sex acts – women performing erotic labor (Wendy Chapkis, 1997)

Page 119-120:
Another problem with the clubs is that it’s always a struggle with a client because it’s not clear what your roles are. Behind the window it’s clear – you’re a whore, he’s a client. But the whole kind of fake romanticism around the club means that he doesn’t want to think you’re a whore and he doesn’t want to see himself as a client. Not all clients are like that, some are well aware. And they are usually the good ones. But there are no set agreements about what’s going to happen once you get in the room. A lot of clients have the idea that their hours will be filled with sex of whatever sort they want. And because you can’t say in the beginning. “If you want this, this, and this, it's going to cost this much, and this I don’t do,” you are kind of struggling the whole time to keep the clients from doing things you don’t want and try to keep him satisfied at the same time.
Page 120-121:
I think for almost everybody I make it more positive than it is, because everybody has such a negative idea about it already. So you tend to only talk about the good things or the funny things. With most jobs, if you have a shitty day or a bad client or something, people don’t immediately say that it’s because of the kind of work you do and that you must stop right away. But with prostitution, I’ve always felt that if I didn’t convince everybody that this work was fantastic for me and that I really loved it that they would all be on my back to quit.
Page 121-122:
Do I have to give all of myself and not hold anything back in order to legitimately be able to say that I like my work? Sure, there are still times when I put up with something from a client that I don’t want to have happen, either because I’m too tired, or I don’t know how to say that I don’t want it. But I have learned now to deal with that, instead of thinking, “Oh, I’m the worst whore in the world,” I just think, “Okay, next time better.” And it’s not like if a client touches my breasts and I don’t feel like it that I am going to be emotionally and sexually damaged for the rest of my life. Just next time better.

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