Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Should It Be Illegal to See a Sex Worker?

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of making things illegal, and I've wavered back and forth a lot on this point. In the end, I believe that sex work is a crime which is committed on a sex worker by the society they live in, the people who they work for, and the men who pay them for sexual acts. Retribution would make me feel much better, period. In fact, I sincerely hope that someday Larry Flynt finds himself surrounded by five hundred knife-wielding angry former sex workers and that on that day, the nearest cop is about two thousand miles away.

But fantasies aside, I don't like police, I don't like jails, and I do like education.

If a man tells me he has seen a sex worker before but does not do so regularly, I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt in thinking that he has made a tragic mistake due to the way our society indoctrinated him and fed his concept of his own manhood into his ability to be sexually violent towards another human being. I tell my story before I point out to him that the sex worker involved was a suffering person. I try and explain to these men that to see a sex worker is to abuse her, and that to see a sex worker on a regular basis is to be abusive. Period. Every time this has happened, the guy in question seems to understand me and agree with me pretty quickly.

What's surprising is the number of men who have seen sex workers before to "see what it was like" or who were pressured in all sorts of insane ways to see a sex worker by their friends. (If my friend had paid someone else to have sex with me or even roused me enough to pay while I was too drunk to remember where I was or what was going on, I would call that friend a rapist and never speak to them again.) What's surprising is that most of the men who I have met outside of my own stint as a sex worker who have seen sex workers at some point in their lives are deply queazy about the whole ordeal. They didn't seem to particularly enjoy it. I think if we lived in a society that de-glamorized and de-mythologized sex work while teaching men to treat women appropriately, this first category of men would not exist. It just doesn't seem to me like they really wanted to see sex workers in the first place at all. There doesn't seem to be much point to me in arresting somebody like this, or even punishing them once they've come to understand that what they did was wrong.

(If they don't understand it was wrong, odds are they will someday turn into regular users of sex workers. Also, I should be allowed to punch them.)

There are, however, men who see sex workers on a regular basis for any number of reasons. I met quite a few of these men when I was one, and in my opinion they were all suffering from mental/emotional defect. In fact, attempting to buy and sell people and sexual intimacy as if it were pizza is practically the definition of having emotional issues. Some of the younger ones seemed horribly lost, including one who ended up tracking down my non-professional email address, Ebay account, etc. (As it turned out, his sister had recently died, and he left me alone shortly after he started seeing a psychologist.) A lot of them were in disastrously unhappy marriages and were so desperate to avoid emotional intimacy that they refused to have sex with anybody but prostitutes who they knew hated them. A frightening number of them appeared to be sociopathic or psychopathic. A few of them were obvious sex-addicts of the kind I had not before known existed, compulsively seeking out a sexual encounter with a stranger, any stranger, many times a day, regardless of the fact that they didn't actually like it.

I think these men need professional help. I think the vast majority of men who see sex workers, even on a regular basis, need professional help. I'm not saying they need a pill or anything, but I do think that a trained psychologist probably has a lot more business dealing with these men than a police officer does. I'm not saying I'm not angry at them or that they don't deserve some form of punishment, just that I'd prefer a punishment that didn't make them more abusive in the long term, as jail is likely to.

In some cases, like that of the sociopath and psychopath, psychiatry alone has its limits and they probably ought to removed from society at large, but hey, that's what inpatient treatment is for, and the odds of rehabilitation are still much higher than they would be in a prison. (As long as they're all hanging around, one might as well study their disorder in hopes of finding an effective way to alter their behaviors so as to make them less of a danger to others. )

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