Interview. We spoke with Rachel Moran, whose memoir about working as a prostitute lays bare a deplorable industry and the way men are responsible for it. “People say poverty is responsible for prostitution. Those responsible are the men willing to satiate their sexual selfishness by dehumanizing women to products.”

Prostitution is paid rape, and men know it

With a bipolar father and a schizophrenic mother, Rachel Moran soon understood the struggle to find a center of gravity in her life. But when attempting to escape the unstable situation, she faced something even worst at 15, when she began to prostitute herself in the streets of Dublin.

She escaped from the throes seven years later, earned a degree in journalism and had a son. But the past continued to weigh down on her. She needed to try to understand it, so she started writing. She has spent more than 10 years on a book about what prostitution is really about.

Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution is published in Ireland, the United States and Germany, supported by scholars, feminists and luminaries like Jane Fonda and Jimmy Carter, and has recently been released in Italy. The author is visiting to speak at two meetings, organized by Resistenza Femminista. The first engagement is today in Milan at the Casa dei Diritti, and on Thursday she’ll speak at the Casa Internazionale delle Donne in Rome.

In uncensored terms, Moran tells what it means to be used after payment and attacks those who want to normalize and legalize prostitution. For years, she has pushed for more and more countries to adopt the Nordic model voted in Sweden in 1999, the only one that has effectively reduced the sex market because it punishes the origin of the problem, that is the demand or customers.

You write that men always commit sexual violence in prostitution, and most are aware of it. How did you conclude this with certainty?

I understood it by feeling my body used as a masturbatory object by thousands of men who, of course, know that the sex they buy is unwanted. Otherwise they wouldn’t pay for it. Using cash to buy someone’s entrance into the body is an act of sexual violence in itself per se. I know because I’ve lived through it and saw it happen to many others, and not all have survived. I am obliged to tell the truth about the harm men do to women when, for their sexual selfishness, they are willing to treat other human beings as living and breathing dolls. These men know perfectly well the evil they’re committing. That’s why none of them want their mothers, sisters and daughters going to work in brothels.

You point out three types of customers: those who prefer to believe that rape has not been committed, those who are aware of it but don’t change, and those who know and are happy about it because they get sexual pleasure from rape. Are any of these categories worse than the others?

The last one — that is, those men who trample on the will of a woman — are the hardest to deal with for the simple reason that, emotionally and psychologically, it is more painful to be injured by someone who deliberately harms you. However, no one would think of asking a bricklayer, for example, who hurt him the most: someone who stepped on his toes, someone who willingly jeopardized his security, or the one who punched him in the face.

On the contrary, these distinctions apply to prostitution. We are driven by pro-prostitute lobbyists to think that this is a job like any other. The truth is that prostitute women have suffered thousands of unwanted sexual incidents and have had to work out the traumas they have accumulated. This explains why in prostitution, PTSD rates are higher than among war veterans.

What role does money have?

It works as a silencer, and anyone who is involved is well aware of it. Money is the compensation for unwanted sex, and when you have been compensated for unwanted sex you have no right to complain. Sex in prostitution is not only abusive, but it is abuse that has to be ignored, by contract. Money has a symbolic role, but also the function of reducing it to silence. In this sense, shame for the culpability is added to the original wound.

In Germany and Holland prostitution is legalized. What are the risks in those models?

Germany is like a circle of hell. There, I met women so traumatized by prostitution that they could not even speak of it. I saw billboards on the streets advertising “A woman, a beer and a blood sausage.” Women are sold on the menu. The brothels are 12-story buildings built to accommodate 1,000 men a day and offer women at a reduced rate for the retired and unemployed. There are prostitutes offering a fixed rate, the equivalent of “All you can eat for the same price,” at lump sums that allow you to use all the women you want as often as you want. There are “group packages” where several men arrive together and they use the body of one or more women like a pack of savages.

As far as the Netherlands is concerned, the Amsterdam mayor closed half of the red light district because of rampant and uncontrollable crime. The women who live there and in the surrounding areas say that walking on the street is an intimidating experience because they are treated like raw materials. It is the outcome of reducing a class of women to sexual objects and it inevitably affects all of them.

Why is it so difficult to eliminate prostitution?

Male sexual selfishness is responsible for prostitution and, more than an institution, it is an industry. At its core is the question of female sexual availability. Prostitution is much older than capitalism, though capitalism has made it easier. People say poverty is responsible for prostitution. That’s not true. Poverty is responsible for making women capitulate to prostitution and it is the driving force behind female exploitation, but is not the main cause. Those responsible are the men willing to satiate their sexual selfishness by dehumanizing women to products.

Why did the law in Sweden work?

I lead the organization SPACE International [survivors of prostitution working to increase public awareness of prostitution as a human rights violation]. We are asking for the acknowledgement of this reality because we know that if that does not happen, nothing will change. In Sweden, prostitution has been recognized as a form of commercial and sexual abuse and people, especially feminists, have been fighting long and difficult battles to criminalize their customers. The law is gender-neutral, and a woman who buys sex is equally guilty, but surprisingly in 18 years not even one has been charged.

The law has worked there and the market has shrunk because prostitution is not socially tolerated. Young people today tend to consider buying sex as loser behavior, and this has made Sweden a more gender-equitable society.

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