The abuse that we know, is better than the future we don’t.
The act or practice of providing sexual acts in return for payment, is a legal form of employment commonly classed under the taboo title of prostitution. One of the oldest professions in the world, it is also one of the most lucrative industries in today’s society. Currently, a violent debate rages in the oestrogen fuelled arenas of neo-feminism, on whether the act of selling one’s body is the ultimate form of female liberation and power in a patriarchal world, or whether it is the most degrading form of human slavery to date. Whilst the knowledge that the female body, a construct which, throughout history, has been masked, reduced to its flesh into a rapeable creation solely for male gratification, runs rampant throughout history and literature, it has also been transformed into an idyllic image of perfection and required emulation.
S&M, dominatrixes, handcuffs and whips are items which have deftly slipped themselves into the sanctity of marriage as well as ‘normal’ adult relationships. Female organs have been fetishized and idealised, yet the blue-print they are based on stems from a debauched and bestialised industry of degradation and oppression.
Ben Nolot’s documentary, Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, tracks the transformative process of becoming a prostitute and links it with the largest form of human slavery that has ever occurred in human history: human trafficking, most importantly, sex trafficking. Moldova, a landlocked state in eastern Europe, is commonly known as the ‘breaking ground.’ As Nolot, the director, writer and producer of Nefarious, speaks over the image of young girls, huddled, screaming in a dingy room, the re-enacted scene still pulsing with a wrenching authenticity, he explains that it is in Moldova, a country were almost 10% of the population has been trafficked post-civil war, that trafficked victims are ‘broken in.’ Locked in rooms till ‘buyers’ come to check their goods, Nolot, with the aid of a former trafficker named Ohad, takes us through the process of them being inspected, put in a naked fashion show, and sometimes, even being tested. This is when potential buyers have sex with the victims to test whether they’re ready to be trafficked. If not, then they are repeatedly raped, beaten, forced to watch other girls being beaten, starved, drugged, until at last they loose all hope, becoming a hollow cask ready to be filled with the eager sperm of ‘Johns;’ prostitutes clients.
The first time, second time, you feel uncomfortable and sorry for the girls. But after that you just think – it’s good money. Ohad, former trafficker
At this point a schism appears between the glamour of prostitution and the seedy underside. Annie Lombart, a former Las Vegan prostitute candidly speaks about the initial power trip that prostitution gave her. To be so in control of a man’s desire, to be earning so much money, it was an exhilarating drug. Yet, like all drugs, the high drained after you were beaten once, twice, had a gun held to your head, thrust in your mouth. Irrationally attacked if you didn’t bring enough money back to your pimp, who seemed to regularly hide under the guise of a lover.
The Stockholm syndrome, wherein the victim begins to have feelings for the kidnapper, was a psychological condition that a number of the women interviewed seemed to fall into. Yet, prostitution wasn’t just about poverty. As women moved from the breaking grounds of Eastern Europe, to the familial arena of South East Asia, more specifically Cambodia and Thailand, the sale of women had become an accepted part of one’s life. Not necessarily, Nolot was clear to point out, in order to alleviate poverty, but often dressed as an acceptable commodity. Families who had girls knew they were ‘financially stable’,as, if economic hardships arose, they could always sell their daughters. Sex trafficking became a way of generating funds to improve one’s condition in life – to afford a new T.V. or mobile phone. Fathers are filmed playing chess day-long, unemployed, as they wait for their daughter to come of age. Though this is one perspective of a national situation, it is chilling to know that there are parents who have made their peace with selling their daughters – and men, who are happy to engage in underage sex. The image of 7-year old’s pyjamas stained with blood after her first sexual encounter are vomit-inducing.
In Sweden, the government have implemented a revolutionary piece of legislation that is now known as the Nordic style, as other countries, including Iceland, have also adopted it. In this sentencing, it is men who are convicted of buying sex and not the women for selling. By criminalising the act of paying for prostitution, the Swedish Government has simultaneously culled the demand and therefore the supply of prostitutes. An unfavourable trafficking area, the last time a woman was found publicly prostituting herself in Sweden was in the 1980’s.
Prostitution is about men masturbating in women’s bodies – nothing else
Kasja Wahlberg makes the point that one cannot claim to promote gender equality, when one section of society can be bought. The difficulty with prostitution being a form of ‘female emancipation’, is that it inevitably fuels the sex trafficking industry, bringing women who don’t see it as a liberating profession, into its malevolent claws. Why should, a former prostitute in Moldova asks, we shy away from protecting the sanctity of human life, in order to cater for men’s sexual desires?
A painful yet revelatory documentary, the Nefarious trilogy, is one that challenges our historical elision of prostitution and our social condemnation for women who are either in modern bondage, or trapped in a nightmare of perverted male desire.