Trisha Baptie: Why prostitution, the world's oldest oppression, must be stamped out

By Trisha Baptie

The conversation that pits current prostitute against former prostitute, indoor versus outdoor, and drug-addicted versus Gucci-addicted has gone on for too long. I have fallen into all those categories. With female “choice” being the only side discussed, let’s subvert that conversation and ask the root question: As a society do we think men should be able to pay to sexually access women’s bodies?

Do we really think that is a sign of an egalitarian society?

One of the most “sex-positive” things you can do is make sure men cannot buy sex, because the buying of sex is violence against women and is a direct deterrent to women’s equality.

Women’s silence and “consent” can be bought—I remember how much mine cost—and almost 100 percent want out now. Allowing a minority of women in prostitution to argue “choice” on the backs of the majority who are out there, in perfect storm of oppression, neglect, abuse, and human trafficking, is absurd. Instead of offering them a hand to reach their full potential, we offer them up to feed the demand for paid sex whilst “choice” is argued.

Prostitution commodifies women’s bodies; this is sexual and social subordination, wherein all women are seen as a subclass of being. Tolerating prostitution affects everyone, because the inherent inequality in prostitution becomes a reference point for sexual and social relations, which are not rooted in equality, fairness, or respect.

It is not the prostituted women we must penalize but rather the men who demand access to them. Prostitution is the oldest form of patriarchal oppression, which is why we must hold accountable the men who pay for sex.

I remember working indoors and men calling in and ordering a woman: “I want brunette, small boobs, will do ____ or Asian, round face, petite.” You get the idea. How is it equality if women can be reduced to what amounts to ordering a pizza and picking the toppings? How are those men respecting, honouring, and valuing women?

What I remember about my years as a prostituted woman was how much I tried to find something empowering in what I found myself doing.

That by choosing who raped me, based on their ability to pay, I was empowered.

That by consenting to the abuse, I was free from it.

That by caving in to the demands of patriarchy; by working hard to look like what they wanted, talk like they wanted; and when submitting to sex on their terms, for which I got money, that I had somehow bested them and was now in control of them.

But I was not, for I remember how much I flinched when they moved too quickly, how I would lay under them and in my imagination be anywhere else. How they always seemed to have a sob story for why they needed to buy me, but my sob story of not wanting to be under them, not wanting to have them in my mouth, was never as urgent a need as theirs.

Saying prostitution will always be with us is cynicism and hopelessness.

Sweden, the global beacon of hope, criminalized the buying, pimping, and procuring, and decriminalized the women in 1999. It has since seen a drastic drop in prostitution. Sweden is no longer a destination country for human traffickers—to gender-equality seekers, that is a country that says, “We value our women.” Norway, Iceland, and Bulgaria have all followed Sweden’s noble lead.

They also implemented exiting strategies, adequate welfare, and a huge awareness campaign when the laws were implemented. I am a realist and know it will be a hard transition period, but I find great hope in the fact that there are 10-year-olds in Sweden growing up in a country committed to mutual equality and opportunity.

To me, it is about legacy. No prostituted women I know, myself included, wants her daughter to be a prostitute. We know firsthand that it devastates the mind, body, and spirit.

So, with every breath in me, I will work ceaselessly towards creating a world rooted in fairness and equality, that values humanity—and that will be done by stamping out prostitution, the world’s oldest oppression, which is within our grasp to do.

Trisha Baptie is the executive director of Honour Consulting & Ministries and a founding member of EVE: Exploited Voices Educating.

Comments (47) Add New Comment
Happy Endings?
Check out Happy Endings? a documentary film on Asian massage parlors in Rhode Island where prostitution is legal behind closed doors.
http://www.happyendingsdoc.com
This year they are trying to change the law to make it illegal again.
We followed all sides of the issue, the politicans, the police, the local residents, and the women who work in the spas.
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male's opinion
Are we going to stamp out marriage, too? Most young women unwittingly or wittingly use their beauty to trap a husband who pays the bills in exchange for sex. If marriage isn't a glorified form of prostitution, what is?
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Al
If you get married for sexual pleasure only then you are a sap. If you think women are "trapping" you with their beauty, you are a sap. If you decide to spend your life with someone, so that you can share your life experiences with someone, sex included, then the sap has quit running.
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Ha Ha Ha
I love it when the tricks read these articles. They've always got something to say when women want to voice their opinion(s). I'd like to see them experience what it's like to be a working girl. Only then would they have a change of heart.
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mid 40s male
You would be hard pressed to find a woman who wouldn't spread them for $1 million bucks with the promise of safe sex with a condom. Wouldn't you? What does that tell you?
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Stephen
I wonder whether the intent here is to protect unwilling victims of exploitation or to express revulsion at an idea that strikes the writer as inherently objectionable. Probably a bit of both. In any case, an outright ban would criminalize the activities of consenting adults. It would infantilize women and men.

In a perfect world everyone would live in happy, loving, and sexually fulfilling relationships. No one would ever be tempted to stray and no one would ever choose to pay for casual sex (or to accept payment for it). Is it really possible to legislate such a world into existence?
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Jamie Lee
I just wish Trisha Baptie would stick to preaching at the right-wing churches and ministries that fondly embrace her distorted moralist messaging.

We don't need the likes of a moralist like Trisha Baptie telling adults how they should govern themselves around their sexuality.Her efforts to criminalize consenting adults engaging in adult sexual behaviour must be firmly rejected.

What about Men who engage in prostitution with Adult Rent Boys. Ms Baptie wants to criminalize this adult homosexual behaviour as well it seems because there is exchange of money.

What about the Transgender Sex Worker who needs to engage in prostitution in order to pay for sex reassignment surgery because right-wing governments are refusing to pay these necessary medical health costs. Ms Baptie wants to criminalize these sex workers as well it seems.

What about the poor Aboriginal women and young males fleeing poverty-stricken reserves who come to the bigger Cities to survive economically It seems Ms Baptie wants to criminalize them also.

It goes on and on. There is nothing like an old Ho who has found redemption in the light and than comes back to preach to others about their supposed evil ways. Give me a break Ms Baptie.

Ms Baptie goes on about men having access to women and how horrible this is. I laugh at this since women in the confines of marriage often had access to the male/husband's income and often this was the only way economically for women to rear children. Under Ms Baptie's distorted thinking this should be criminalized as well.

Ms Baptie now because she had an imperfect world wants to create some fantasy of a perfect world, In her image no less. Seems to me she just replaced positioning from being in positions with the ordinary working stiff to now serving the moral upstanding men who preach intolerant messages to the converted/weak in so many of the religious institutions today. Those same institutions where Ms Baptie spreads her hurtful and hate filled messages.

Ms Baptie says she wants to stamp out the world's oldest oppression and if she is really serious about this perhaps she can start by taking on many of those religious institutions which arguably are the world's oldest oppressors. And perhaps she can leave consenting adults alone in making their own decisions and choices around sexuality and freedom issues.
Jamie Lee
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WOMEN'S oppresssion
None of the above comments deal with what is being discussed, women's oppression. All the groups mentioned are again, men, so in discussing men we are still not talking about WOMEN. Her (Ms.Baptie)brilliant point is that this is NOT about consenting adults. It's a global problem with global implications, again the above aguments seem to not even touch on that. Seems she is onto the most logical and equality based solution.
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JamieLee
Women's Oppression - and therein lies the problem.

When you take prostitution and say it is only a women's issue this only ensures that women and men in the sex trade will continue to face harm as a consequence of being sex workers. Solutions to this issue of harm will not come when you frame prostitution as one of patriarchy and women's inequality. All you are doing is placing blame and that isn't to me very solution oriented.

The real social issue of prostitution has to be framed in many different contexts and only when we do this will we be able to address the various concerns surrounding prostitution.

Continually and exclusively framing it as Ms Baptie has and which Abolitionists/Prohibitionists like her and her followers do only leads to more violence for sex workers. History has shown this to be true.

This Abolitionist/Prohibitionist agenda is no different than what the modern-day Shame the Hookers engaged in during the 70's and early 80's. They were notorious for placing blame and lobbied for the West End injunction which lead directly to hundreds of women, men and trans sex workers being murdered.

How can that be considered an equality based solution?

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disgusted
"mid 40s male" wrote: "You would be hard pressed to find a woman who wouldn't spread them for $1 million bucks with the promise of safe sex with a condom. Wouldn't you? What does that tell you?"

I think that you could similarly argue that it would be difficult to find a person who would not commit arson. perjury, fraud, or any other number of criminal activities given a sufficiently large bribe. Your statement makes me think that criminalizing the purchasers of sex is definitely a step in the right direction.
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expoitation is the issue
Good article, women who are enslaved into prostitution deserve our help and as a society we can do more to help young Asian women who are brought here for sexual exploitation. You only have to look on Craigslist under erotic services to see how bad the problem is.

Many of these women do not speak English and sending in undercover police who can can speak their language to offer assistance may be helpful. Finding male undercover police at the VPD or RCMP to take on the job likely won't be a problem.
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dualie
God forbid we should allow men any form of intimacy, even if they have to pay for it. This isn't about protecting women from exploitation, it's about punishing men for allowing themselves to be exploited by women for financial gain.
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RE:Jamie Lee
As a reply to Jamie Lee...

First off, the cheap shots are unappreciated and are discrediting a woman who is doing amazing good. Your comments completely miss what Trisha Baptie is trying to do. Taking shots her religeon is not what we are here to do. She did not mention her faith in the article, neither should you. She is realistic and is not comdemning sex before marriage. What she is condeming is the state of the women in prositution. (I'm not even going to discuss the "old ho" comment. Was that really nessary Miss Lee?)

The first thing you are wrong about is your use of the word "criminalize". Baptie herself states that, "It is not the prostituted women we must penalize but rather the men who demand access to them." May I remind you prositution is already criminalized? Its not legal. So technically, Baptie's job is done. What she is fighting for is decriminalizing the woman's side of prositution and criminalizing the men's, as they quite successfully done in Sweden.

The examples you gave (trangendered, aboriginal) were very good, except for one thing. What kind of life are these people living while prosituting? It is a world full of violence and abuse that will not end with the opening of brothels. It will simply push it from the view of public eye. Say someone is entered against their will while in a brothel, but is stopped half-way through. Have they been unraped because someone intervened?

The beauty of marriage can be distorted like anything else. I believe marriage should be a loving, equal relationship between any two people (same sex or not) who have decided to spend their lives together. Just another thing people need to work towards. Just because something is the way it is, doesn't mean it was supposed to be that way.

There is no intolerence in Baptie`s words. She does not bash the prositutes, she does not scream from the `higher post`` you say she inhabits. She asks just one simple question. Why should men have the right to buy sex? Why do we, as a society, allow the injustise aand abuse of prositution to continue? Your question seems to be, what do we do without prositution? And the answer to that is, we need to become more aware of the circumstances surrounding prositution. We need to address the issues of poverty, of desperation.

Baptie seems willing to address these issues.You are more concerned with horrible right-wing governments and who's Christian.
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Jessica
I would like to offer a few points of clarification as well.

Prostitution is actually legal. There are three points in the criminal code concerning prostitution which make certain activities surrounding prostitution illegal.

It is illegal to solicit.
It is illegal to live off the avails of prostitution - pimp.
It is illegal (currently) to have a common bawdy house.

These are the three things that those involved in full decriminalization would like to have removed from the criminal code. This would industrialize prostitution and render pimps and those higher up in the sex-industrial chain businessmen.

Would full decriminalization promote the "choice" of "consenting" adults, or put more weight on a top-heavy power imbalance? These are some questions we need to think about.

In order to move towards equality, Trisha is actually fighting for the Swedish Model of Prostitution law which would NOT CRIMINALIZE THE BOUGHT, only those whose demand puts these people in such a dangerous position.

Jamie-Lee, before you write another descriminating comment, at least take the time to do some basic research.

Also, to the men who believe they're being financially or marritally exploited: you're probably not enslaved by poverty, addiction, or lack of social support. You're probably not being accosted by prostitutes or "beautiful women" on the street, begging you for your financial services. Perhaps the only thing you're being exploited by is the organ between your legs.

Can we stop the knee-jerk reaction comments, and actually read the article? That'd be great.

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Do Anything
I support a woman's right to choose. I include in this her right to make an educated decision on how to treat her body, including whether or not she would like to offer herself intimately for currency.

To say that we needs laws to disallow the exchange of sexual services for money is to say that an adult woman does not have the right to decide how to use her body. It is saying that she is too weak or stupid to make what the author of this article and others in her mindset view as the 'right' choice.

This is not an example of female empowerment, because you would be taking away her power over her body.
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Voice of Reason
Just wanted to point out the extent of this law.

It is illegal to solicit. IN PUBLIC

Yes, news flash, apparently, since neither the reporters nor the interviewed ever want to deal with reality, but prostitution (the exchange of $ for sex) is perfectly and completely legal. In fact, Vancouver itself issues biz licenses for body rub, for escorts, etc, all in the name of $ for sexual activity. I cannot fathom how supposed intelligent & informed adults commonly get this one basic fact so wrong.

It seems to me the writer of this article used to work for agencies, and had no say in who she saw, no power over her job, & obviously little or no biz savvy to do the work necessary to be successful in sex work. Possibly she handed over a good portion of the extortionist agencies that are out there, with their legal biz licenses, who fine the workers for cancelling, not being on time, not showing up, advertising, etc etc, whatever they can in order to suck as much of the intial client fee away from the employee and into their own pockets. Like any employee, the writer disliked her employers and her job. Big whoop. Welcome to the world of working for a living.
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Jessica
Thanks "Voice of Reason" for clarifying the soliciting law. I wasn't specific enough in my comment.

In the Langara Dialogues on the June 17th, a speaker from UBC made an interesting point about consent. She wondered why poverty, addiction, and lack of resources doesn't factor into the issue of "consent".

Food for thought.

It was also said that 92% of prostituted women want out. I went to a meeting on the 16th of June hosted by FIRST where there was a panel of speakers advocating for full decriminalization. One of the speakers said that the vast majority of "sex-workers" are actually self-employed. It seems as if this writer isn't the only person who didn't enjoy her "job" as a prostituted woman. It may not be as simple as having a bad employer either.

I also think a woman should be able to choose what to do with herself...I just wonder how many choices prostituted women really have. The choice to sell generally comes with several other bleak options...the choice to starve and have your family starve. The choice to...oh wait, I can't think of anything else.

Maybe we should be giving them livable welfare, child-care, affordable education, and, if need be, addiction resources instead of handing out the old condom and lube band-aid over and over again.

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Evelyn-Vancouver
Thank you Trisha,

Exactly my thoughts as a former escort.

Yes, if you have to have sex when you don't feel attracted to the person it does feel like rape, even if you agreed to it.

Why I did it? For the MONEY! Yes, I did lie to men about how much I enjoyed myself, but that was an act.

And prostitution, or the "freedom to do with your body what you want" has nothing to do with feminism. This argument is nothing but another brainwashing of women by men, and it should be called "men do with your body what they want."

Keep up the good work! Swedish women are very lucky.
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Rik
I am a man, I have provided a sex-service to men, women and transgender for many years. At no time have I ever felt exploited, and at no time do I believe that I've ever exploited my clients.
I've done this work of my own free will, I have found it to be a dignified, fulfilling and legitimate way to earn a living
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David Hornett
We all find ourselves at one time or another in a position we don't wish to be in, the real tragedy is when for money, love, family, or what ever we have to stay there. The argument against prostitution is one against entrapment, and a pretty nasty one at that when violence, disease and social shame is concerned. Prostitution is not in its self either right or wrong –– it is the other misery that can come along with it.
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