Selling women’s bodies in the news again

// 4 September 2008

Research by the Poppy Project has found brothels in London selling women for £15 plus another £10 for unprotected sex although the average price was £62. 85% of them are in residential areas and they found around 28 brothels in each of London’s 33 boroughs meaning an estimated turnover of £50m to £130m per year. 77 different ethnicities were represented

Helen Atkins, one of the co-authors, said “Multi-media misrepresentations of commercial sex as a glamorous, easy and fun career choice for girls and women further contribute to the ubiquity of London’s brothel industry. However, for most women involved in prostitution, the reality is a cycle of violence and coercion, perpetuated by poverty and inequality.” From BBC News.

Meanwhile Harriet Harman’s office have released new figures showing public support to criminalise the buying of sex to reduce people-trafficking for sexual exploitation (58% of the people asked by Ipsos-Mori).

In general, men were likely to say it was unacceptable for a female relative to sell sex, but fine for a male relative to pay for sex. This difference was most notable for older men (those over 55) who were the most accepting of buying sex and the least accepting of female relatives selling sex highlighting most strongly the sexual double standard (and shows that people have “unmade” the link between the two!).

Harman claimed some people in the survey showed “double standards”, indicating that they were relaxed about the principle of paying for sex but would be deeply ashamed if a female relative was working as a prostitute.

From The Guardian

Women tended to find buying and selling sex unacceptable (61% and 65% respectively), but men tended to find it more acceptable (42% and 40% respectively). However 60% of both genders would feel ashamed if a family member worked as a prostitute – showing the male tendency to make prostitution OK if it’s “other” women who aren’t “respectable” anyway involved (such as those who are poor, women of colour or of other nationalities, substance abusers and so forth).

Comments From You

Edward Green // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:44 am

I wonder if there were any questions about male prostitution? It would be interesting to see how peoples attitudes to this varied from female prostitution.

JENNIFER DREW // Posted 4 September 2008 at 2:54 pm

A number of women’s organisations are lobbying for the criminalisation of individuals who buy women for sexual exploitation. If legislation were to be passed this would include criminalising anyone irrespective of their biological sex from buying another human being for the purchase of raping and sexually exploiting them. In other words this would include the much smaller numbers of males engaged in prostitution. Do not forget prostituted women vastly outnumber men and it is male demand which fuels and ensures prostitution continues. Attempts at diverting the issue will not succeed because prostitution is male violence against women and others who are sexually exploited by men.

Ally // Posted 4 September 2008 at 4:05 pm

You say:

“In general, men were likely to say it was unacceptable for a female relative to sell sex, but fine for a male relative to pay for sex. This difference was most notable for older men (those over 55) who were the most accepting of buying sex and the least accepting of female relatives selling sex highlighting most strongly the sexual double standard (and shows that people have “unmade” the link between the two!).”

This is simply not true. I don’t blame you for getting it wrong, because it would appear to be what Harriet told the Guardian, who repeated it faithfully, and I guess you’ve taken it from there – but it took me approximately 15 seconds to go to the Ipsos-Mori website and read the figures for myself. I didn’t even need to go to the actual detailed poll report – just the summary. It says:

“The August survey, carried out among a representative sample of 1,010 British adults between 29-31 August 2008, shows that public acceptability of both buying and selling sex drops off when people consider that the buyer or seller is a relation. For example, two in five (39%) feel that it is very or fairly acceptable for a man to purchase sex with a woman, and more than half (52%) find this very or fairly unacceptable.

However, when the question asks “Please imagine that the man purchasing sex is related to you, for example your brother, son or father. In this case would it be acceptable or unacceptable?”, acceptability drops to 10 points 29% and unacceptability increases 10 points to 62%.

Similarly, while 38% of the public feel it is acceptable for a woman to sell sex to a man (and 53% find it unacceptable), these figures shift to 22% acceptable and 69% unacceptable when respondents were asked “to imagine that the woman selling sex is related to you, for example your sister, mother or daughter”

So that’s a difference between 29% who feel it is acceptable for a male relative to buy sex, and 22% who feel it is acceptable for a female relative to sell sex.

A seven point difference is hardly evidence of a national double standard, is it?

Louise Livesey // Posted 4 September 2008 at 4:20 pm

Erm Ally, I did go to the Ipsos-Mori report, and read the headline data pdf too. I am not sure how you can claim that a. I was wrong and b. the data shows no gender division – the Ipsos-Mori website and the headline data report don’t give gender breakdown of results so you can’t make a comparison. You are conflating responses by a mixed gender sample with separate gender data. They only give total sample results without any delineation by age or gender…..

As I tell my students – don’t over-reach your evidence….

Ally // Posted 4 September 2008 at 4:47 pm

“Don’t overreach your evidence.”

Well quite!

Apologies for being snappy, but I was particularly responding to the first sentence I quoted:

“In general, men were likely to say it was unacceptable for a female relative to sell sex, but fine for a male relative to pay for sex.”

“In general”, men said no such thing, Louise. According to the Guardian, the group most likely to find women selling sex acceptable were older men, and from the figures quoted, only 50% of those thought so. It must be true then, that the majority of men do not find women selling sex acceptable.

I’m not having a go at you Louise, because the press release put out by the Cabinet Office is vague at best, downright obfuscatory at worst. I’m really annoyed with them, not you, but I don’t think Harriet has a blog ;-)

Sample quote:

“Interestingly the majority of men are much more likely to find it unacceptable for a female relative to sell sex (61%), yet they are more relaxed about a male relative paying for sex (50%).

(actually I don’t think that means they are ‘much more likely’ at all, it means they are ‘slightly more likely’ but never mind. It continues)

“This difference is most stark amongst men over 55, who are the most accepting of buying sex in general (50 %), but just 21% of whom believe it is acceptable for a female relative to sell sex (compared to 11% of women aged over 55).”

Note, they are not comparing like with like – they don’t tell us how many men over 55 think it is acceptable for a male relative to buy sex, nor do they tell us how many women over 55 think it is acceptable for a woman to sell sex. How extreme are older women’s double standards on this?

Incidentally, while we’re about it, latest poll does not show: “public support to criminalise the buying of sex to reduce people-trafficking for sexual exploitation”

it shows public support to criminalise the buying of sex if it would reduce people-trafficking for sexual exploitation.

I would support painting all streetlamps yellow if it would reduce people trafficking for sexual exploitation. Doesn’t mean it would work, does it?

Louise Livesey // Posted 4 September 2008 at 5:41 pm

Sorry Ally you are still over-reaching the evidence provided – you can’t claim the stats are wrong just because you don’t like them. The Press Release is here.

The figures show that most women see buying or selling sex as wrong, 61% think paying for it is wrong and 65% think selling it is wrong. Most men, however, felt that buying and selling sex was OK with 42% finding buying sex wrong and 40% think selling sex wrong.

In other words:

39% of women felt buying sex was OK

58% of men felt buying sex was OK

35% of women felt selling sex was OK

60% of men felt selling sex was OK

and

61% of men said it was unaceptable for a female relative to sell sex

50% of men said it was OK for a male relative to buy sex

For men over 55 50% thought buying sex was fine but only 21% of whom thought it was OK for a female relative to sell sex (compared to 11% of women in the same age group).

So in general men said it was unacceptable for a female relative to sell sex and half of men said it was OK to buy sex. For men over 55 half thought buying sex was fine but 79% felt a female relative selling sex was wrong. Given the press release came out in the past few days the data will be made available sometime soon. Until then why not just wait until the evidence is available?

As for your non-sequitur to measures working – it being difficult isn’t an excuse to not try and do something.

“We know that paying for sex fuels the demand for trafficked women and children, but we can’t talk about tackling demand without challenging cultural attitudes more widely.”

From Equalities Unit

james // Posted 4 September 2008 at 7:14 pm

Louise – Sometimes people don’t always give answers to surveys. Just because 42% of men responded that they thought buying sex was ‘unacceptable’, does not mean that 58% think buying sex is okay. From the data published, we do not know whether more men think buying sex is acceptable or unacceptable. Not that that stopped you trying to cook the numbers to make a point.

This is another crappy little piece of propagandistic ‘research’ commissioned by innumerates. I like they way they threw out the press release without worrying about publishing the data it’s based on. Absolutely typical of feminist scholarship…

Louise Livesey // Posted 4 September 2008 at 7:47 pm

Dear James,

We do know that only 2% of the complete survey didn’t answer this question (check the Ipsos-Mori headline stats report). Most likely this is evenly split but even if it isn’t that means a minimum of 56% of men think buying sex is OK.

I didn’t “cook the numbers” I followed the data. Not that that will make you issue an apology for you personal attacks – no far be it from a woman to point out you’re wrong. Ipsos-Mori, who conducted the research, is the first market research agency to get ISO20252 quality standard for market research – the rest of their market standards are available here.

I’ve heavily edited your comment to bring it in line with The F Word’s comments policy – that is no personal attacks, no unsubstantiated statement as fact and ad hominem insults. Any more comments along those lines just won’t be published.

Kim // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:08 pm

Just to say I’m disappointed with the reactions.

The facts are there. I don’t know why some people won’t acknowledge this problem. Sweeping it under the carpet doesn’t help, and questioning the figures doesn’t either. I think it’s clear they’re reliable. And it’s -obvious- what a problem prostitution is, even in our “enlightened times”.

James, the “typical of feminist scholarship” comment is particularly offensive. After all, no-one’s assuming that all men are dismissive of the facts just because some of you are.

claire // Posted 4 September 2008 at 10:49 pm

Hi, can I just say a word on terminology?

As long as we speak of “buying” or “selling” women, aren’t we implicitly overlooking the fact that women belong only to themselves, and that therefore it is logically impossible for someone to buy or sell one?

Where money changes hands so that someone can coerce a woman into sex, I don’t think it’s really right to call it buying or selling, unless you accept the notion of a woman being property that can be bought or sold.

I can’t help thinking we should dispense with the language of misogynists, and call a spade a spade, so to speak. What about a woman-centred way of describing it?

Rob // Posted 4 September 2008 at 11:26 pm

I think the issue is more complex than that. One could argue philosophically that the buying and selling of sex is morally ok under safe and consenting circumstances but still be against someone selling of sex in the violent crimnal brothals of britains major cities.

I think the issue of it being someone close to you will always result in bend in the data. I think people should be able to freely use recreational (sp) drugs but i wouldnt want my little brother doing it, i women should be able to join the army but i wouldnt want any of my friends to join the army (male or female). I dont think this nesecaryly proves hypocracy.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 5 September 2008 at 12:27 am

I think arguing over the statistics misses the best way for us men to duck the issue from that poll.

Playing Devil’s Advcate for a moment, it seems to me that a better way to question the validity would be to look at how many other industries or businesses there are where people would be strongly opposed to their family members being involved, but are happy for strangers to be involved. In fact, there are many industries in which a person working in that industry is proud of their own work in that industry, but who would be ashamed and unhappy if a family member were to wind up doing that work.

None of which would actually undermine the fact that there IS a double-standard involved. The existence of a double-standard certainly highlights the patriarchal “dominant paradigm” by which sex is automatically regarded as something shameful for a woman to want or be involved with (while at the same time, regarding it as something she is supposed to provide for men).

I don’t think that such surveys show much about the theoretical nature of sex work, but they are revealing of society’s attitudes towards sex work, and towards sex in general.

Louise Livesey // Posted 5 September 2008 at 8:59 am

Unfortunately for many women involved in prostitution it is a case of being bought and sold rather than having autonomy especially in the context of traficking. I also acknowledge that some women in prostitution do have that autonomy and should be overlooked.

I would love to agree that trafficked and prostituted women belong to themselves but the truth is they don’t in many cases – I think that also has to be acknowledged. Where women freely choose to be engaged in prostitution (and for me that doesn’t mean through poverty) then they are trading sex but only where they have complete bodily determination.

maggie // Posted 5 September 2008 at 10:57 am

I am currently visiting my boyfriend in a very well to do town in the midlands. While i was driving back from the airport we talked about things happening in his town. he told me that in the last two weeks at around midnight 2men knocked on his front door asking if this ‘was the chinese ladies brothel?’. Apparently there is a household down his street doing this. It totally shocked me.

Rained Off // Posted 5 September 2008 at 12:41 pm

Its a Business,should be TAXED,but how ?

Ellie // Posted 5 September 2008 at 1:29 pm

“I would love to agree that trafficked and prostituted women belong to themselves but the truth is they don’t in many cases – I think that also has to be acknowledged.”

Louise, I understand what you’retrying to say here but I think you’re missing Claire’s point, which if I do understand it correctly, is that no human being can be the property or possession of another. Just because a person has control over another it does not mean that they own the person.

SnowdropExplodes // Posted 5 September 2008 at 4:55 pm

Responding to Louise Livesey:

I think the thing about finding a women-centred way of looking at it is very important.

While I can’t speak for Claire, when I make the sorts of comments she does, my thinking is this: as long as we use the terms of “buying and selling women”, we do nothing to change the social attitudes surrounding the issue, and we don’t move the debate into what should be done about it: we keep it stuck in the realms of “ooooh! Isn’t it terrible!” pearl-clutching.

By framing the debate in terms of buying and selling a service, and then looking at issues of whether that work is being conducted according to legitimate employment law, or whether it is being conducted a coercive slavery, we move the debate into issues about what can be done, and we move it into an area in which, instead of “overlooking” (i.e. erasing the experiences of) those sex workers who are comfortable in their work, their experiences are acknowledged without erasing the experiences of those who clearly are in sex work out of no volition of their own.

(Incidentally, sex work isn’t “trading sex”, it’s “providing a sexual service”)

While it is true that traffickers and pimps regard women as their property and “buy and sell” them, by using this terminology ourselves, we tacitly accept their worldview and do nothing to change the wider social views that support it.

By choosing other language, we can more easily expose how what happens to trafficked and enslaved women is actually the rape and abuse of a human being, and at the same time we do not erase the experiences of those sex workers for whom it is not rape but is their choice.

michael savell // Posted 6 September 2008 at 2:05 pm

Louise,just a small point until we get to look at the figures properly.I am 72 and

I wouldn’t like my relatives working as prostitutes,primarily because it should be a younger person’s “game” and I don’t have any relatives under 45,I did not imagine prostitutes worked up to retiring age.Who would they attract?

The whole point of this was to deflect

trafficking,(or was it),bearing this in mind ,could you give us an idea of the number of women working in this industry who are being controlled rather than controlling themselves.I don’t see the point in making laws and criminalising another section of the public just to save a few people from themselves.Will this also be applicable to the women who charge for alternate sex,you know,those who charge upwards of £100 per hour for spanking or suchlike.?

Leigh // Posted 6 September 2008 at 4:48 pm

I would be more interested in the reasons people gave for their answers.

The press release says: “While the majority of men and women agree that paying for sex should be made illegal if it will help stop the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation, women and young people are much more likely to find the whole idea of paying for sex unacceptable.”

The notion that men would not want women they knew to work as prostitutes seems consistent with an attitude of keeping women as sexual property. This bring us back to the old question, which received a lot of attention earlier in the year: Were safety and poverty not a factor would it be more respectful of a woman’s sexual autonomy to let her work in the sex industry than not? What are we really legislating against when we illegalise prostitution?

Louise Livesey // Posted 7 September 2008 at 1:58 pm

The Poppy Project publications page is the best resource for figures on trafficked women at the moment.

Sara Callow // Posted 26 September 2008 at 8:06 pm

I think it’s interesting data and a great jumping off point for discussion (as evidenced by the many comments!) While selling sex is probably as old as time, I think that probably many people would agree that objectifying women does not promote equality in society. So considering the different attitudes towards selling sex held by men and women is a great place to begin to the discussion, and think a little more critically about what are generally accepted attitudes that may do harm to women in general.

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