The Belfast Telegraph has recently featured the story of a woman who for the purposes of the story is named Anna. Anna was a victim of sex trafficking. She was kidnapped from London and brought to Galway in Ireland where she was used as a sex slave. She was then moved to Belfast, and it was whilst in Belfast that she escaped from her captors, eventually helping to bring some of them to justice. The details of the story can be read here including details of the book in which her story is documented: https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/life/features/belfast-sex-slave-if-i-asked-for-food-i-was-beaten-if-i-tried-to-sleep-i-was-raped-36902724.html. It should be noted that even from the details of the Belfast Telegraph story, Anna’s ordeal is quite shocking.
Anna represents the plight of many women who are forced into sex slavery. In the story in the Belfast Telegraph it is noted that after she had escaped in Belfast she did not have very much support in terms of services for women in her situation. She felt that she had to make politicians aware of the reality of life as a sex slave, a reality that she lived through. Anna met with Lord Morrow who at the time had proposed a private members bill to help deal with human trafficking by making life harder for the traffickers, and she also met later with then First Minister Peter Robinson.
Lord Morrow’s bill was opposed by Amnesty International, not on the principle of protecting trafficked women, but on the principle that the bill proposed to make it illegal to pay for the sexual services of a prostitute (https://www.amnesty.org.uk/press-releases/northern-ireland-amnesty-responds-private-members-bill-tackle-human-trafficking). Amnesty International argued that it confused sex trafficking with the payment of services of a prostitute, and that by confusing the two there was a risk of diverting resources away from tackling trafficking.
But such a fine grained and arbitrary distinction stands at odds with Anna’s experience, since she was kidnapped and sold into sex slavery precisely because people were willing to pay for sex. Moreover, Anna notes in the Belfast Telegraph story that sex trafficking is a big business with people making a fortune selling women’s bodies – if traffickers did not think that people would pay for sex with their victims, they would not be trafficking the victims for that purpose! Once one permits the principle that it is acceptable to pay for sex, then the person providing the services ceases to be viewed as a person and becomes something of use for the one paying.
Outside of the human trafficking situation, one may wish to argue that a woman selling her body for sex is no different than an employee selling his or her time and indeed body to an employer for a job that needs done. Indeed, one may argue that sex is just another job that needs done and women who have not been trafficked but freely chosen to engage in such an endeavour should be allowed to charge for it.
However, the problem with viewing the work of sex as just any other kind of work where there is a legitimate employer-employee relationship is as follows. The employee does not sell himself in return for wages; the employee sells his time and skills for which he is rewarded. Thus the employer values the time and skills of the employee more than he (the employer) values his own money, and the employee values the employer’s money more than he (the employee) values his time and skill. But crucially the employee is not selling himself. The prostitute is selling herself, because sex is something that is done with one’s body, and a person is an embodied being. Persons are not minds floating around independently of bodies; persons, human persons at least, are bodily things. Thus, when one engages in sex, the person is engaged and gives himself or herself to the other. That is why sex is such a personal encounter, because it represents two people at their most intimate and personal. By buying sex and selling it, a person becomes a commodity and no longer treated as an end in herself, but as a means to an end. The buying and selling of sex then depersonalises the one selling it, and treats that person as something less than human.
So there is a major difference between an employer/employee relationship and one wherein sex is for sale. The latter depersonalises one of the people involved whereas the former does not. Given the depersonalisation involved in the paying for sex, the one who sells sex comes to be viewed as less than human but a mere object for use. And since that person is now envisaged as an object for use, it’s not too much of a leap for a very poorly formed character to deny that person any sort of say in how he or she is used – and therein is the root of the trafficker’s mindset. Thus, it is right and just that in tackling human trafficking, one also tackles the paying for sex, because it is out of the latter that people become objects and ultimately can be bought and sold.