The past few weeks have seen an alarming amount of men accused of sexual misconduct across the globe; from Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, to comedian Louis C.K., to a host of politicians from Washington to Westminster. The hashtag #MeToo trended worldwide on social media and gave a voice to countless women who came forward and opened up on their experiences of sexual harassment. It is encouraging to see the fearful veil of silence being removed, yet at the same time also worrying that such abuse was – and still is – commonplace in the world around us.
However, one such form of abuse seems to be quietly accepted in our society – prostitution. I realise that some may not agree with me equating prostitution with abuse simply because of the financial transaction that occurs. If one pays for a specific service there seems to be an implicit agreement between the parties involved. Surely this cannot be considered as abuse, some would say. Yet I can’t help but find myself wincing inwardly at the cold vocabulary of ‘transaction’, ‘service’, and – worst of all – ‘work’.
All work – be it manual, creative, professional, or otherwise – should reflect the inherent dignity of every human being. A particular activity or service that does not respect one’s dignity ceases to be considered as ‘work’ and becomes abuse since it is, by definition, the improper and cruel use of a person. Prostitution, in this light therefore, can never be considered as ‘sex-work’ but rather as sexual (not to mention sometimes even physical) abuse. The stark reality is that women involved in prostitution aren’t offering the service of sex but rather the commodity of their body.
A culture in which economic growth is seen as the only valid measure of progress, human dignity is perceived as an inconvenient liability that should be conveniently discarded. Talk of legalising prostitution seems to fly in the face of gender equality and actually institutionalises a legal framework which would allow male dominance to thrive and perpetuate female submission. Legalising prostitution would be a very sad attempt to justify a grave injustice.
Furthermore, the argument that one should not interfere if a woman freely wants to prostitute herself seems to fall flat on its face when confronted with statistical data from the European Women’s Lobby (the largest umbrella organisation of women’s organisations in the EU) that nine out of every 10 women in prostitution would like to stop but feel they are unable to do so. The reality – especially on a local level – is quite stark. Prostitution is very closely linked with experiences of sexual abuse, drug dependency and human trafficking. Few, if any, women (in some cases as young as 14 years of age, as reported in local media) freely choose to prostitute themselves. Faced with severe financial needs, the possibility of physical abuse, or the lack of recourse to any viable alternative, one could barely consider the decision by these women to prostitute themselves as a ‘free choice’.
In this light, a community which truly cares for its citizens, and seeks the common good, would try to help these women escape the vicious cycle of criminality and abuse they find themselves in. We can only call our society a ‘free’ one when these modern shackles of slavery are broken and true freedom is extended to all. Dar Hosea, a day centre for women involved in prostitution, is one such NGO that seeks to help those unwillingly trapped in this reality. As students of the Faculty of Theology, we strongly advocate in favour of the promotion and defence of the dignity of every woman and every man. Everyone should be free to fulfill their full potential in their search for meaning, to be fully alive and be fully human – and treated as such. This year we are contributing our part by donating all the funds collected during our Orange Campaign at the University of Malta to Dar Hosea. We hope that as the Christmas period approaches, we may, as a nation, foster amongst ourselves a true spirit of fraternity, justice, and equality.