Praise for ‘Paid for’

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Sharing an interesting piece featured on The Marshall Project Link here

It talks about Rachel Moran’s book ‘Paid for’ in which she lays bare her past as a sex worker. In her interview she praises the Nordic Model “in which johns are aggressively targeted by law enforcement, but those who sell sex are decriminalized. In the United States, female sex workers are far more likely to be arrested than their male clients. Where largescale surveys of sex workers have been conducted (notably, not in the U.S.), the results show the majority oppose criminalizing clients.” What caught my eye, as regards this article, was the word ‘Nordic’. I’ve just got off the bus with admiring the Scandinavians, for the most part anyway, after reading Michael Booth’s the Almost Nearly Perfect People – an amazing read. But, we digress. I am looking at the society I live in and am dismayed at the similarity between us and the US in this regard, while of course, the situation here is far, far worse for everyone involved I guess.

The article goes on to say “Last month, Amnesty International announced its support of decriminalized, regulated prostitution, arguing that it would protect the safety of women and men who sell sex by enabling them to work cooperatively and turn to the authorities for help when they are sick or abused.”

Of course, it feels surreal to even talk about this subject in a country like India where marital rape is actually not a criminal offence. In fact, when recently some panel had recommended recognising it as one, some political brain actually went on to say that if this were done, most of the men would be behind bars. The best part: he’s actually right about it, ask anyone on the streets! If you talk about consent, they’ll want to know what you’ve been smoking. So, that’s where we stand. Also, prostitution, which used to be a heavy-duty bad word for use in public discourse has become quite ubiquitous through a slight misappropriation through the word “presstitutes”. It’s certainly losing its edge at making people feel not just a little a bit self-conscious. This is to say that a mature discourse about the issue is quite impossible in the country. And well, it is equally unlikely to come across blogs and social media where sex workers (current or ex-) talk about their work as a matter of choice. But google a certain kind of “jija” on Youtube, and you have a sure-shot, full-frontal, very very creepy, and a very ‘rapey’ hit(s!). The people involved in these cheap productions are certainly not interested in being low-key; nor are they ashamed – less about the work, lesser still about the quality, least of all about where they are being seen. So, in terms of accessibility, Digital India is very much making it work.

I mean, I have certainly heard of sex workers in Las Vegas and all who are trying to put themselves through the med school and the like through their time in flesh trade (a desi Izzie Stevens of Grey’s Anatomoy would certainly be too much to digest in India, however well the series did here). As against that, we in India do come across stories where children of sex workers are winning scholarships to study in the US. While those in the West do come across portrayals of the job as a “choice”, “an empowering thing to do”, and “at times enjoyable” as says the link here, saying this in India would probably split people right down the middle – those who simply refuse to believe it on the one side and those who say “I knew it had to be” on the other. The confusion would only be about where the actual ‘middle’ lies.

The hard reality that everyone must recognise, regardless of which side of the issue you are on, is sounded out by Rachel Moran, who says, “every prostitute I’ve ever known wanted to get out of prostitution”. That sounds, ummmmm… believable, if you think about it hard enough.

I was in the UK a couple of months back and we were only accessing the free channels since I wasn’t going to be a couch potato in London for heaven’s sakes. However, after 10:00 pm, the TV certainly changed its disposition. One such evening (late) I let it play on and it gave me a window into the world of one such worker – a young woman who “services” clients and might I remark upon the titillating manner of covering her life, while the narrative ended and rested on the darker aspects of having undergone an abortion and the inability of her parents to “accept” her and so on… So, while the camera angles did go politically incorrect, the language and the narrative was kept politically correct.

It is this, at least in my view, this duplicity of our so-called “high-minded” culture that Ms. Moran seems to address in her book, which also says that while there is limited demographic research on prostitutes, whatever there is, suggests that childhood poverty and trauma that Moran experienced are common among women and girls who do sex work, particularly those on the street.

After all, no girl grows up thinking this is what I’ll do when I grow up! Not recognising the inherently exploitative nature of this work is to not understand it at all. I love the way she talks about education as the one thing that would help fill up this void.

She calls out the most basic problem – that of a skewed understanding of the act itself. She says, “To go back to the basics, sex is not a service. You can’t reasonably pretend that it is. You need to pretend that it’s a service in order to normalize it. The bald reality is that putting your hands on a person who doesn’t want them there and putting your penis into the orifices of a person’s body when you know they don’t want your penis there is, in fact, pathological behavior. When men pay to do that, they’re not paying for a service, they’re paying to absolve themselves of the wrongfulness of what it is that they’re doing.”

Therein lies the criminality.

When will India wake up to its responsibility for a huge portion of its citizens who are leading a life that is disenfranchised, humiliating, and dangerous, and at times all at once, trying to survive a culture of entitlement that protects those that prey on others.