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Who Will Rescue Us from Those Who Wish to Rescue Us Against Our Will?
January 26, 2005
by Norma Jean Almodovar

The "rescue and reformation" of prostitutes has always been a big business. In the late 19th century, "fallen women" (prostitutes) had literally hundreds of Rescue Organizations vying for their souls and the money that went with their "salvation." Most of those prostitutes unlucky enough to be so rescued could count on a life of slavery as inmates in the laundries, asylums and penitentiaries built by "faith based" organizations who raised thousands of dollars from the church-going public, horrified by the stories of the "poor, betrayed and fallen women" of the streets. It wasn't until the mid 1990's when an inadvertent act of greed uncovered the scandal in Ireland of the Magdalen laundresses -- "Maggies" as they were called -- whose slave labor in the laundries had enriched the coffers of the local Catholic Churches there for well over 100 years.

In the later part of the twentieth century, a curious phenomenon occurred: the far left radical feminists, who had been for many years preaching the gospel of prostitution as a violation of human rights and sexual exploitation -- got in bed with religious conservatives who were all too happy to accept the new wording for their age-old moral crusade against prostitution. The religious conservatives had, for the most part, lost the public's sympathy with their crusade against personal moral choices such as homosexuality and abortion, and needed a new holy war to inspire their congregations. But to reach the general populace, the wording needed to be altered so as not to be perceived as just another "moral" campaign. The radical feminists had the jargon already constructed- "anti-trafficking" was a fight against the sexual degradation of women and children -- not a fight against immoral behavior, and thus could the public be persuaded it was imperative to pass new laws and spend of millions of dollars to "rescue" the "sexually exploited." Whose heart strings wouldn't be stirred at the thought of young children and women forced to perform sex acts upon evil, lust-filled men? Who wouldn't be justifiably disturbed at the thought of greedy pimps making billions of dollars off the sale of those poor, exploited persons?

There was only one problem: prostitutes had begun fighting for their rights in the early 1970's and had become vocal about wanting to decriminalize consenting adult prostitution. Around the world, prostitutes' rights organizations were started by young, articulate, politically savvy women and men who believed the original feminist creed of self-determination. We had the audacity to think that the mantra "my body, my choice" for abortion rights also applied to us and our bodies. Can you imagine our surprise when we were told that there is no such thing as "choice" to engage in commercial sex?

"Sexual exploitation" is a subjective concept and requires the use of other inflammatory and deceitful words to reinforce it. So radical feminists and religious conservatives adopted a take no prisoners approach, and simply disallowed from being heard the voices of us activists who favor decriminalization of all private, consenting adult commercial sex.

Radical feminists and religious conservatives insist that no distinction be made between consenting adult commercial sex and true sexual slavery. Using skewed law enforcement statistics- which also do not differentiate between consenting adult prostitutes and those persons of any age who are coerced into sex slavery- the global community is duped into believing that there are possibly millions of trafficked victims worldwide who are nothing short of "modern day slaves." Without clarification, these statistics are truly alarming and shocking -- and certainly when there is force, fraud and underage persons involved, it is without a doubt a very serious problem.

I should point out that domestic violence is also a very serious problem within marriages and other non-commercial relationships. Anyone who visits a battered woman's shelter without knowing that domestic violence is an aberration and not the norm, would no doubt be inclined to want to criminalize marriage in order to protect women from such violence.

Imagine if our laws did not make a distinction between an act of rape or child sexual abuse and consenting adult sex; how would the victims of rape and child sexual abuse be helped by the arrest of every adult person who engaged in consensual sex? Would the victims of rape be helped if we arrested them? Does anyone believe that arresting a prostitute "for her own good" is of any value whatsoever? If prostitution is inherently exploitative, why are prostitutes considered criminals?

It is time to change the laws so that police and international agencies can truly assist those who are forced into sexual or any other type of slavery. Decriminalize all private, consenting adult prostitution -- and allow adult men and women to determine when and if we are victims of exploitation. When we need rescuing, we promise we will call you.

Norma Jean Almodovar, a retired prostitute and former employee of the Los Angeles Police Department, is Founder and President of ISWFACE (International Sex Worker Foundation for Art, Culture and Education), and Executive Director of COYOTE LA (Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics).

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