The "choice" issue is a perennial favorite among the pro-porn set, usually deployed as a conversation-stopper. University professor Rebecca Whisnant has a great statement this one, which we'll quote first:
“We need to think and talk somewhat differently about women who participate in the sex industry. Yes, many are coerced. Many are not coerced, but their choices to participate are made under far less than ideal conditions and result in significant harm to themselves. Finally, there may be some women (a relative few, to be sure) who choose participation in the sex industry from a meaningful range of options and who experience that participation as at least tolerable, and at best empowering. Certainly there are women who report this to be true of them, and while we many often suspect that a level of denial is operative, we need not assume a priori that denial or dissociation explains every such case. Rather we can grant, at least for the sake of argument, that such cases exist. The next question is, what of it? In particular, it seems to me that a useful next question would be this: on whose backs are they having this tolerable-to-empowering experience? What are the costs to women in general, and to the overwhelming majority of prostituted women in particular, of allowing this opportunity to those few (by definition relatively privileged) women who might feely and sincerely choose it for themselves? (Not For Sale, page 24)
Okay, there are several main reasons that women get involved in porn, stripping, and prostitution. Unfortunately, no study currently exists with a pie chart of how many women fall into each category. That would actually be a big help. However, our extensive research indicates that the following seven are the most common scenarios:
A girl is molested, or raped, sometimes repeatedly, most commonly by a father or stepfather. The Department of Justice reports that 44% of rape victims were younger than 18 when assaulted. Sexually abused children are about 4 times more likely to develop a psychiatric disorder, and these typically include post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, self-mutilation, or a dissociative disorder. At any rate, there is inevitably a destructive effect on the girl’s developing psyche. Survivors commonly describe feeling disconnected from their bodies and from themselves... a loss of control...unbearable shame...and confusion about sexuality.
Of course, not each and every sexual abuse survivor becomes a porn star, because that would equal 1 of every 6 American women. The numbers are that high. But researchers in the field find that frequently, survivors can directly trace their entry into porn, stripping, or prostitution back to their previous abuse. Their first sexual experiences have taught them that their primary value in life is their body and what others want to do with it. Or they learn that they are dirty little whores and they might as well live the part. As Taylor Lee, sexual abuse survivor and ex-stripper explains:
"The first time I had sex, I was raped by someone close enough to my family to call my mother 'mom.' Now, I was sure what I was for. I knew that my greatest asset was my sexuality and knew how badly it was desired. I also realized that I had little control over my sexuality, that it could be taken at will. It was easy to give it for profit; at least then I was in control." (Not For Sale, page 58)
Legendary porn performer Traci Lords recently linked a rape she experienced as a 10-year old with her underage entry into the porn industry. And America’s porn sweetheart, Jenna Jameson, has also reported several rapes during her adolescence. Can a truly free choice be made in response to childhood trauma? We think not.
If a teen girl becomes homeless, either escaping an abusive home or being thrown out of one, she has two pressing concerns: food and shelter. Decent, well-paying jobs that cover the rent are in short supply for a homeless teenage girl to procure, especially if she has not completed high school. Generally, you need a marketable skill, access to showers and clean clothing, and a physical address to list on the job application. But the girl quickly realizes, on her own or through the encouragement of a street pimp, that she indeed has a marketable skill: she can get paid in cash to perform sexual acts with strangers. (See Anitra’s story: www.oneangrygirl.net/anitra_winder.html)
Researchers in multiple studies have consistently found that the average age of entry into prostitution falls between 13 and 19, the years when most of you were doing your history homework and picking out your prom dress. As one girl prostituting in Seattle put it, "We were all molested and sexually abused as children, don't you know that? We ran to get away. They didn't want us in the house anymore. We were thrown out, thrown away. We've been on the street since we were 12, 13, 14." (Not For Sale, page 114) Frequently, pornography is also made of prostitutes, often without their consent. In Farley and Lynne's study of prostituted women in British Columbia, 67% percent of subjects reported this happening to them. The resulting pictures and videos are useful to pimps as blackmail evidence, should the woman ever attempt to leave her situation.
Is a homeless teenage girl trying to stay alive by engaging in prostitution and pornography truly exercising her free will and making an uncoerced career choice? We think not.
A woman or girl addicted to drugs requires a reliable, steady cash flow to maintain her habit. If she's a corporate lawyer, or Whitney Houston, then no big deal. However, if she's homeless or poor or unskilled, she is far more likely to resort to prostitution, porn or stripping than to try to finance her addiction making $7.50 an hour at Wal-Mart. As previously mentioned, selling sex is the one marketable skill that every women shares in a culture like ours. We all know that if times get tough enough, we can likely find a buyer for our body.
But just like you probably didn’t get shitfaced drunk before you took your SAT’s or sat for the big job interview, we don’t expect people on drugs to make sensible, binding career decisions. Can a woman in the grip of a chemical addiction exercise free will or well-reasoned career choice? We think not.
Girls living in poor countries – think Nepal, Philipines, Ukraine – are being sold by their families into brothels at alarming rates. The family gets a steady income, the girl gets raped 15 to 20 times a day by middle-aged sex tourists seeking virgin pussy. Alternatively, girls seeking jobs abroad – because none exist in their home country – will answer ads to become hostesses, waitresses, or “entertainers.” When they reach their destinations, they discover that they are expected to prostitute in gang-controlled brothels, or strip in gang-controlled clubs. Or both. If they need convincing to adjust to these circumstances, gang members are brought in to beat them, rape them, lock them up, and destroy their passports.
Finally, some girls (and boys) are simply kidnapped or stolen and forced into the sex industry after being raped and beaten into submission. Trafficked women are also brought to America to work the strip club circuit. This is happening all over the world right this minute, but feel free to visit the website for Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (http://www.catwinternational.org) if you require further proof. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times has also written extensively on this subject.
Can a trafficked or kidnapped girl freely or consensually participate in her new job? We think not.
Frequently, scenarios 1 through 4 become intertwined, making "choice" an ever more dubious possibility. The sexual abuse victim becomes a runaway. The runaway becomes drug-addicted. The addict loses her home. And so on.
Somewhat more rare, but increasing in popularity, are cases of pornography being made of women who are unaware of what's happening. Girls and women have been videotaped in restrooms, in changing rooms, in tanning salons, or in their OWN BEDS without their knowledge, and the footage posted online. Tiny cameras hidden in briefcases take "upskirt" photos later posted to voyeur websites. Boyfriends and husbands will also take consensual naked pics of their partners, but then send them to amateur porn sites, or to Hustler, without their partners' knowledge...or they do this after a breakup in order to get revenge. Finally, over half of prostitutes interviewed for several research studies reported having pornography made of them by johns.
Free choice? Yeah, right.
An increasingly common scenario...
Say you're an average, all-American girl, born in 1987. That makes you 18 in 2005. At age five, you watched skinny women shake their asses around in the "Baby Got Back" video, which played on MTV approximately every 15 minutes during the summer of 1992. You and your little friends copied those moves and your parents thought it was so darn cute that they got out the camcorder.
At age eleven, the Spice Girls were your idols. They showed that you could achieve Girl Power by looking hot, staying skinny, and showing lots of leg. You thought Ginger Spice was the hottest, and pleaded to dye your hair red. When you got to 7th grade, you were sexually harassed by your classmates, something you shared with 83% of the female student population (Harris Interactive Poll, 2001). See, your breasts had developed rather quickly, and boys dared each other to sneak up behind you and grab them. Sometimes they succeeded, but the teachers never saw. Other girls did, and spread rumors about what a slut you were. For a while you had no friends, and you developed a quiet eating disorder. You never had a sex ed. class, because your state's Department of Education didn't require it. By 8th grade graduation, you heard that all the popular girls were giving blow jobs after school. Their boyfriends expected this after two weeks of going out.
High school was a little better. Luckily, you never got date-raped, but your best friend did. She didn't do anything about it, though, because everyone knew she'd had a major crush on the rapist. Meanwhile, IM was the hot new thing, and you were busy chatting away and fending off requests to send sexy photos of yourself to the pervy guys in the chat rooms. You lost your virginity at a party in 10th grade but never spoke to the guy afterwards. You heard later that he'd assessed you as "fat thighs, great tits." Your guy friends were all bragging about jerking off to porn, and you quickly realized that you had to act like that was no big deal. That's what all the other girls did.
By 11th grade all the girls were wearing the Playboy bunny chokers and Porn Star shirts and shorts with "Naughty" written across the ass. Guys who dated a lot of girls called themselves "pimps," and you and your friends went through a phase when you called each other "whore," as a term of affection. One of the most popular guy's dads had promised to hire him a stripper for his 18th birthday party, according to the latest rumor. You watched girls get drunk at parties and make out with each other while the guys cheered and took photos. You saw American Pie and The Girl Next Door and countless reality TV shows where women paraded around in hot pants and thong swimsuits and even wedding gowns, competing for fabulous prizes and/or husbands. Senior year, a new Hooters restaurant opened on the highway near your school and became the cool new hangout. Sometimes you ended up there with friends after the game, and your Uncle Jim hosted his 45th birthday party there.
But then you turned 18 and graduated. Your family can't really afford college for you, and your grades were never that stellar anyway. So you do some neighborhood babysitting, and some lifeguarding at the lake, and try to imagine your next move. This girl you know says she's going to audition at the Glass Slipper strip club on Route 39 – "always hiring new dancers!" – and invites you to come with. Your summer boyfriend thinks it's a really hot idea.
You say you need to think about it.
All of your ideas about love and sexuality have been shaped by a lifetime of semi-sleazy, exploitative experiences. But you think of them as normal, just like you think porn is a natural part of everyone’s life. You've never been raped, but you've grown up in a rape culture. Time and again, it's been clearly demonstrated that you, and all womankind, are really only useful for one thing. Luckily, this one thing happens to be what men will pay you top dollar for. And right now, you’re unemployed.
If you decide to become a stripper, are you really choosing freely? Or are you simply taking the next logical step in your American-girl socialization process, a track fashioned by the marketers, magazine editors, and movie producers, upon which you were placed as a young child?
Did you ever really have a choice? We think not.
We believe this scenario represents the tiniest minority of prostitutes, strippers, and porn performers, but we’re willing to grant that a few cases exist. These are the women who had an array of equally enticing options – college scholarship, live-in nanny position, radio DJ, paralegal, direct marketing representative, contestant on Star Search…or the sex industry. They chose the sex industry for its high salary, flexible hours, advancement potential, and considerable hipster cred. They are happy and fulfilled in their careers. We know this because they are always telling us how happy and fulfilled they are in the titillating first-person columns they write for Marie Claire and Cosmo and Maxim and The Nation. Because the media loves the "happy hooker" story, and because homeless meth addicts and teenage runaways don't tend to write grammatical prose, theirs is the scenario most commonly presented to the American public. We admit it's possible, but we know it ain't common.
Free choice? Well, that's what they're telling us.
So now you've read about the seven most common scenarios that lead women into the sex industry. Perhaps you are even willing to admit that in the first 5 scenarios, free will in the John Locke or David Hume sense is not clearly evident. In scenarios 6 and 7, one can make an argument that some choice does exist. Following the pro-porn argument that most liberals adopt, using porn and buying hookers is fair and square if they freely and joyfully consented...but uncool if they haven't.
When you're using porn, or hiring an escort, or watching a stripper, how can you actually know which girl you're getting? Do the girls wear labels that say “Need the cash for my heroin addiction” or “Quit my career in finance to do this instead”? Do the pornographers provide mini bios of the stars? No, they don’t. You have no idea who you’re getting, Sure, you might be lucky once or twice and rent a video featuring a grad-school dropout, or score a lapdance from the ex-teacher who decided to try a second career as a stripper just for kicks. But we estimate that the majority of the time, you will be watching rape and incest survivors on the screen and stage. And if you’ve ever enjoyed a Traci Lords or Jenna Jameson video, you already have.
Anti-Porn Resource Center
copyright 2004 one angry girl designs ®