By Alisa Bernard, Board Member for the Organization for Prostitution Survivors; Prostitution Survivor
Comedian Margaret Cho performs at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tenn. Thursday, June 10, 2010. (AP Photo/Jeff Christensen)
For weeks, the Internet buzzed around a Twitter “true crime” story based on a woman’s experience in prostitution. After reading it, many women have stood up in support of prostitution, including funny-woman Margret Cho, who used the opportunity to come out as a former sex worker. Cho has received a standing ovation for her move to protect sex workers’ rights. I am not among those standing.
In the world of prostitution, those like Cho are not the majority, and their presumption to speak for those of us that are is wrong. Cho’s experience of prostitution as female empowerment is quite the contrary to what the vast majority of prostituted women experience. Not many women freely choose a job where sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, physical and verbal abuse, and death are not only part of the job description, but are commonplace. As a self-proclaimed sex worker once told the Daily Dot, “Every sex worker has a horror story.” This so-called “work” is inherently dangerous and, truly, no amount of client screening is going to change that.
Let’s compare the sex worker/survivor debate to that of the “99%” vs “1%”. We acknowledge that an economically privileged few—the 1%—control society. This group makes rules and regulations regarding our—the 99%—lives; affecting everything from the taxes we pay to the schools we attend. It is obvious to us 99 percent-ers that we are getting the short end of the stick—a system where the privileged few dictate the lives of the downtrodden many. So why can’t we see that this is exactly what’s happening in the debate over prostitution? The problem with Cho’s standing for sex workers’ rights is that she’s standing on the side of the very few who seem to think they do this “work” by choice.
Most prostituted women are forced or coerced into this by pimps, traffickers, and our own unequal society, which has decided that even a well-educated, privileged woman can make more money on her back than she can holding a gavel. That, my friends, is not an argument for prostitution; that is an argument for equal wages. In this movement, the one percent is the sex workers who are crying unfair play because they’re being stigmatized and their “poor clients” are being arrested. Meanwhile, the survivors are the 99 percent, getting slapped in the face by the deeply damaging commercial sex industry.
You may question that the survivors are many and the sex workers are few. After all, the sex workers have the loudest voices in this debate. But volume does not equal quantity. They are the loudest because they have the support and the funding of the commercial sex industry: the buyers, the brothel keepers, and the pimps. It is on these women’s backs that they are making notches on their bed posts and lining their pockets. Where are the voices of the survivors who represent the majority of those in the sex trade? We have been harmed by the system, we are scared into silence, and we are bullied into submission through trauma and shame that is not ours to carry. We have only our nonprofits and the endless stream of tired, battered, broken, and beaten women walking through our doors.
I am here to say that there are far more of us than then are of you, Margaret Cho. Counting yourself among the “1%” is not something to be proud of. You have not only sold out your sisters—you have aligned yourself with the very monsters that sell us into slavery.