Rights of the Silent Majority – Sex Slavery and Prostitution

I agree with Taslima Nasrin. Sex slavery is something that has to be abolished. India is one of the places where sex slavery still occurs. Women are kidnapped from places like Nepal and Burma and traded as prostitutes. Their illegal status allows them to be kept under control. Many are lured into making such deals due to desperation.

However those are the most visible examples of sex slavery. In India 90% of women and children kidnapped and forced into sex slavery are local. Usually from rural villages to major cities with the promise of money or along caste lines.

But that’s the thing. India’s system of prostitution isn’t like the west. We cannot apply a blanket argument to it as a problem. Taslima herself is guilty of this. Every prostitute’s situation is different and without understanding. Another thing she is (IMHO) wrong about is calling all sex workers prostitutes. And even in the west, sex is work. How many people work in pornography? Is that not work? What about a professional Dominator/trix? What is a Kardashian or the Jordans of the world famous and rich for if not for sex?

A quick break down of prostitution… In India, there are approximately 20 million sex workers, with a 75:25 split of female to male workers. A lot of the male sex workers are “hijra” or eunuchs. Crude castration is done illegaly to create them. Some female sex workers are part of various systems of prostitutes such as Devdasi and the Bacharas or are part of ancient bonded labour systems such as Chakri. Many of these are banned but rather hard to enforce considering India’s size and the fact that there aren’t very many policemen and Indian Policemen are rather prone to corruption.

With that in mind let’s take a look at the points Taslima makes.

Lie1. Prostitution is an oldest profession.
Truth1. Prostitution is the oldest form of patriarchal oppression, not oldest profession.

Hm? Patriarchal oppression may be ingrained into us as behaviour which is seen in other great apes. The reasons why women go into prostitution vary. We can classify it as patriarchal oppression, but in India one of the weird things is that there are more female pimps than male ones.

A better look at this is that India for a long time was rather sexually liberal. Fucking around wasn’t a big deal back then. I am aware of Lucknavi poetry and it’s rather saucy and erotic lyrics and that’s coming from a muslim culture. The thing is India has adopted the same values of Victorian England, hence it’s massive prostitution population. In it’s rush to become a non-sexist society, sexism went in clearly the opposite manner.

Victorian values are basically the idea that the ideal woman is chaste, fair, and can do no wrong. That the thing that ruins her are those dirty horrid men. That such a woman is not wooed by dinner and dancing but with epic poems that sear the soul. And like Victorian England, prostitution skyrockets when you take this attitude to women.

Lie2. Prostitution is sexual freedom. /Prostitution is sex.
Truth2. Prostitution is sexual exploitation./ Prostition is not sex, it is sexual violence.

Not all prostitutes hate their job. Some do it willingly. One cannot compare a Californian Dominatrix in a sex dungeon to a nepalese slave girl in the Cages of Mumbai. Even within India there are a wide variety of sex workers ranging from the middle class Gigolos of Delhi who are everything you could want in a sex worker, to the frankly gruesome home made castratii of the hijra to the high class call girls to the brothel worker.

Classifying ALL of them under a single banner is not helpful. I am of the opinion that what two (or more) adults voluntarily do in the privacy of their own homes sexually is their business. But that’s the thing. Voluntarily is the important thing. If a woman/man wants to sell sex and if a man/woman wants to buy sex then why are we so bothered about it?

I am however bothered by women and men being forced into it and tarring all of them with the same brush which reduces effectiveness of arguments. If a person is voluntarily trading sex (roughly 15 to 20% of Indian Sex Trade Workers or ISTW are voluntarily in the business having coming into it of their own accord and tolerating no pimp or brothel worker) then why on earth should we interfere with that? Surely you are ruining someone’s personal choice.

Lie3. Legalizing prostitution gets rid of sex traffickers and pimps.
Truth3. Legalizing prostitution benefits sex traffickers, pimps,clients,sex industries.

Prostitution is legal in India. Pimping, Trafficking and Purchasing are not legal. The issue is that it’s nearly impossible to control such an industry. Legalising prostitution often means not going after the girls or their clients but instead providing a governmental control over the industry which stops pimps and sex trafficking.

Lie4. Men need sex therefore prostitution must exist. Prostitution is a natural form of human sexuality.
Truth4. The sex of prostitution is not “sex” for women in it. Most men who use women
in prostitution have other sexual partners.

Depends. Some women do enjoy it. Some women have written favourably about working in sex ranging from Dr. Brooke Magnanti to Nina Hartley. Men don’t need sex, men WANT sex, and prostitution is just a way of getting what one wants. Women want sex too and there is a small but gradually increasing trade in gigolos in areas such as Delhi and Mumbai’s middle class populations.

“It’s not sex if you pay for it”, is not a valid argument. Prostitution is a natural form of human sexuality BECAUSE it is so ubiquitous in nearly every society. Not every natural occurence in human history is a good thing.

And even men who don’t frequent prostitutes have multiple sexual partners. By Indian Standards of acceptability and admission, I would be regarded as a Lothario style figure.

Lie5. Women choose to enter prostitution.
Truth5. Prostitution is not an acceptable job for women. They are forced to enter prostitution. Prostitution is an abusive institution and women stay poor in prostitution.  It  is not a vocation choice, it is human rights abuse.

Here is where I completely and utterly disagree. Taslima is right about a lot of things but not this. Women and men do make the choice to be prostitutes. I am not saying that all prostitutes make this choice, but there are some. As stated earlier roughly 15 to 20% of ISTW joined by choice. The idea that it is not an acceptable job for a woman is a cultural product of Taslima’s upbringing. There are prostitutes everywhere. And guess what?

Every Goddamn Person treats prostitutes like this, including their Johns. The entire method of keeping prostitutes under control of their pimps is this. That their job isn’t acceptable. They cannot get proper healthcare because “it’s not an acceptable job”. They cannot ask a policeman for help because “it’s not an acceptable job”. Their kids don’t get treated well because mummy is a prostitute and “it’s not an acceptable job”.

When one works with them you are tarred with the same brush. And prostitution is a steadier job than others in India. Most of the non coerced ones or the slaves are above the poverty line due to the work they do. Wrenching
them away from their job actually just throws them back on the street.

These are a group of women whose skill pool is limited. Their choices are beg or prostitute. Prostitution is better than begging. Atleast that puts a roof over your head and rice in your child’s stomach. They cannot learn the skills they need to not be prostitutes because to this day Indians still treat women as second class citizens and don’t educate their daughters. And once they are in the job, no one is willing to teach them the skills they need to survive in the real world as independant women.

So actively pulling them out of prostitution may make you feel great but is it best for the woman in question? Who will feed her kids? Who will give her money? What will she do? The reason why anti-prostitution drives in India fail so badly is because they are firstly as judgemental about prostitution as Taslima is in her article and secondly because these drives do not answer these questions. They basically show up, bust all the pimps and the Johns and declare these women free and then go back home to slap themselves on the back.

Lie6. Legal prostitution protects women in prostitution.
Truth6. Legal prostitution does not protect women in prostitution from harm. All prostitution , legal or illegal, harm women.

Legalising prostitution DOES protect women in prostitution. It enables them to get the kind of help they need. It allows them to work in the open. Abuse occurs when no one can see it.

There are no pimps in legalised prostitution because pimping tends to be banned. These women get the kind of healthcare they need. They can get the proper sex education that they need to keep safe and they don’t have to hide within the lawless areas of India.

The harm to women is dependant on the nature of the sex work and the reasons for it. I know a dominatrix who is technically a sex worker and I don’t think she is harmed by her work.

Lie7. Social Stigma is most harmful aspect of prostitution
Truth7. Not social stigma, Harmful aspects are rape, beatings, physical abuse, psychological abuse, and other violence from clients and pimps.

Agree. These are major problems in prostitution and legalisation does cut down on it some what.

Lie8. Prostitution is deterrent to sex crimes.
Truth8. Prostitution is associated with increased rate of sex crimes.

Meh? I don’t think I have seen statistics to push my view in either direction. Rape occurs for a variety of reasons. Indian rape figures are rather low mainly due to horrifically poor report rates so it’s nearly impossible to give a real estimate.

I would say that they are related in the Indian model though. The girls who have little say and are basically “slaves” are prone to such crimes. The volunteers are not because they pick and choose their Johns more carefully.

But I am not sure about this.

Lie9. Legalization of prostitution is an entirely separate issue from human trafficking.
Truth9. Prostitution is the destination point for trafficking.

Not always. A lot of human trafficking in Western Europe for example is not for sex but for cheap workforces. Mexican human traffic is not sexual so much as economic and job motivated. In India? A lot of human traffic is with regards to labour forces particularly in the Middle East. So to tar everything with the same brush is again simplifying a complex problem.

And 90% of sex traffic in India is local.

Lie10. Legalized prostitution would control the sex industry.
Truth10. Legalization/decriminalization of prostitution expands the sex industry

It does both. I subscribe to the Freakonomics view on this topic. The legitimisation of the sex industry will merely bring it out into the open making it less hidden.

However what determines the size of a prostitution economy is the availability of sex. In India roughly 2% of people are ISTW. By comparison? The UK has just 0.13% and the USA weighing in with 0.27%. Even in Germany where legalisation has occured the number is 0.42% and that’s because there is a burgeoning tourist sex industry there at places like the Reeperbahn. Holland has a number similar to Germany at 0.37% and again I assume it’s due to the tourist industry.

Sweden never had a large prostitution population to begin with. Prior to the law just 0.04% of Swedish people were in the sex trade. Why? Well it’s probably cultural and social pressures and variations that don’t encourage prostitution. The average swedish unemployed individual lives the kind of lifestyle most people in third world nations wish to have. There may actually be no pressing drive to trade sex for money. And I feel that the draconian stance on prostitution probably has driven it underground or into a pure internet/call out scheme.

If one asks the average indian about sex, you would assume that it’s filled with people who replicate by binary fission. But clearly there is a lot of sex going around otherwise there wouldn’t be a billion people. I am saying that the statistics from Sweden may be poor due to the same reason.

Again there are deeper social and economic issues. What applies to Sweden may not necessarily apply to India.

Lie11. Opposing prostitution means prostitutes would be arrested.
True11. We have to decriminalize poor prostituted women but arrest their predators: clients, pimps, traffickers.

Again… Not all clients are the horrible aggressive men we are so familiar with from fiction. Most are NORMAL PEOPLE. But yes. I agree that the pimps and traffickers need to be arrested.

I agree with Taslima on a few points, I just think she treats it as a simplistic issue when it is a really complex social issue that isn’t going to change by treating prostitution as the evilest thing in evil land. It’s going to change when we can genuinely provide the means for the uplift of these women and remove the profit in the trade. Smacking down pimps is like playing whack-a-mole. We can do it all day till the Holy Cows come home but ultimately what we really need to do is change the way we think about prostitution in India.


  1. says

    I needed to thank you for this excellent read!! I certainly loved every little bit of it. I have got you bookmarked to check out new things you post…

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