Suki Falconberg: Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and Language

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Suki Falconberg: Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and Language

Postby sam » Thu Jan 28, 2010 6:18 pm

Suki Falconberg: Prostitution, Sex Trafficking and Language

Suki is a former prostitute who has been widely criticized for defining prostitution as a form of rape.She is the author of five novels:

Tender Bodies and Whore Stories
Comfort the Comfort Women
Flower Child of Icebane
Pink Tiger and the Whore Liberation Front

Her autobiographical book, The Raped Vagina, is the basis for much of her fiction. All of her books are available at and at your local bookstore.

Language is enormously important. I find myself having to create new words and phrases to try to express the harsh realties of prostitution and sex trafficking–and the oppression of female sexuality. A common definition of a prostitute is “a woman who engages in promiscuous sex for money.” Look up the word in major dictionaries and you find it synonymous with “loose woman” or other such judgmental phrasings. Every definition has not just a male bias (being based on man’s privileged sexuality) but also a moral-majority bias: the “respectable” people of the world (both men and women) judging the sexual outcast and labeling her with words that indicate her worthlessness.

For openers, I would change the standard definition of prostitute to something like “a girl or woman who is sold for sex.” This needs to be refined, of course, since it is in the passive voice and so leaves out the real villains: those doing the selling and the men who do the buying. But for the moment I’ll let it stand. It’s a start in reversing the language bias.

You will notice that in the realm of non-prostituted women there is no word for any kind of open, free, non-repressed, non-imprisoned, un-enslaved female sexuality. If you are a woman and you voluntarily sleep with a lot of men, you are still ‘promiscuous.’ A slut. The only synonym I have found is ‘non-monogamous.’ I suppose this choice is an attempt to be neutral and non-judgmental. But what an ugly word. It sounds like a strangled mongoose. I have yet to invent my own word that would express a beautiful, free, unafraid female sexuality where a woman can joyfully fuck as many men as she wants to—without all of society coming crashing down around her ears. And it would come crashing down—since, for such a sexuality to exist, we would have to reinvent the whole world: it would mean the demise of patriarchal religion, among other radical changes—but this is material for other articles and these are subjects I have commented on liberally elsewhere. So let’s get back to language.

I like the word ‘whore.’ It has been used as a “term of opprobrium” (as they say) for centuries in order to keep us women in our place. ‘Whore’ is spit at us as the ultimate insult. Actually, what is a whore? She is the ‘prostituted’ and the ‘trafficked.’ She is the girl broken in rape camps and put to fuck use for the pleasure of men, with no regard for her own life or being. After the breaking in, she might be ‘turned out,’ in obscenely revealing clothes and grotesque make-up and those torture devices called high heels, in order to work the streets in Rome or New York or Athens—I am just giving you a random, typical scenario. It might sound like it comes out of a movie, that typical Hollywood-manufactured painted streetwalker—but she really does exist. As ‘whore,’ she is surface, an end-product, doing her mechanical blow jobs in cars or alleyways, taking her fuck quota for the night so her pimp won’t beat her ragged. She is pretty much spat at, or just ignored by the rest of us. For the well-dressed with their cinnamon lattes in hand, she is simply not there. She is, in one Japanese phrase for prostitute, ‘a woman of no importance.’

To me the whore is the most pathetically scorned, insulted, abused, battered, violated creature on the planet. Yet she has made it—somehow. She is still alive. So to be called a ‘whore’ for me is a point of pride. I would rather use it than ‘prostitute’ or ‘prostituted being’ since to appropriate it is to defuse the sheer ugly power it has had over us for centuries.

And, for me, as a former prostitute, to be called a whore certainly beats being called a ‘sex worker.’ That supposedly neutral phrase is an abomination when applied to most of the bought and sold women and girls in the world—what they do, the rape they have inflicted on them, does not even vaguely resemble ‘work.’ ‘Sex worker’ is a cover-up phrase thought up by academics wanting to be cutesy and PC, I think.

Show me a ‘sex worker’—someone who sells sex in complete safety; someone who is respected by her society for her ‘profession’ (whether she works in New York or Las Vegas or Bangkok or Dubai or Melbourne—add any city in the world to this list); someone who is never subjected to any kind of violence or humiliation–and I will concede some accuracy to the phrase. But until we change prostitution so that it conforms to the above definition for all women and girls in it, then it cannot be called ‘sex work.’ As a highly sexual woman, I would welcome a form of prostitution that allowed me to expand the beauty of my sexuality while being paid for it. Not yet on this planet. The majority of women and girls in prostitution ‘work’ under conditions that are far from free or beautiful: sexual violence, humiliation, other kinds of physical violence, debt bondage, control by owners or pimps or family members who take the money—these are not uncommon elements in the lives of prostitutes. In fact, women working in prostitution under conditions that are completely free from coercion or violence are rare. I hold that since most of prostitution is exploitative, it cannot be called ‘sex work.’

In the area of language, we need to stop making a distinction between the ‘rape’ a prostituted girl undergoes to break her and the ‘rape’ she has inflicted on her by the ‘clients.’ The latter of course is much worse since it never ends. It is funny to hear so many people say that she was broken by beating and rape so she would ‘accept’ her customers. What the ‘customers’ do to her everyday is a rape far beyond the initial breaking in.

The attitude among traffickers seems to be take the girl if she is a virgin and break her in rough, with hours or days of rape, until she does not resist anymore. By then, she is too submissive and broken to think or speak or to ever care again. Then the thousands of ‘customers’ who ‘enter’ her inflict an even more severe form of rape on her by using a completely broken human being.

This situation is one reason I always call the men who do the buying ‘customer-rapists’ or ‘client-rapists.’ I try to make this standard language usage in all I write, along with the term ‘prostitution-rape.’ It’s tough, since I, too, have been indoctrinated with inaccurate words. I find myself using ‘work,’ as in ‘when I worked as a prostitute,’ since I cannot find any other way to express it. But I am trying.

Besides, it is about time someone said something about the language that obscures the reality of prostitution. How did it come about that we use such words as ‘clients’ and ‘customers’ for men who buy girls being held under the most appalling conditions of slavery? I wish it didn’t have to be me who says something. It is excruciatingly painful to write about the subject of prostitution and sex trafficking. And it is even more painful to reveal even the most minor of details about my own time in prostitution. In person, I can’t talk about it at all; on paper, I’m only able to touch the surface. I don’t want to set myself up as some poor, helpless sacrificial goat but I feel compelled to say that most of the time the Sex Industry is a Rape Industry. Australian writer Sheila Jeffreys has a book about trafficking/prostitution called The Industrial Vagina. Now that seems like an accurate word choice! It conjures up images of some poor overused, sold vagina chugging along like a piece of machinery.

But sometimes even the best of the writers on female oppression are often woefully inaccurate in the area of language. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, in excerpts from their recent book Half the Sky, tell us of a girl named Abbas Be who was sold to a brothel in New Delhi when she was 14 where she was “beaten with a cricket bat, gang-raped and told she would have to cater to customers” (This excerpt appears in the 23 Aug. 2009 New York Times Magazine. All subsequent quotes from the book are from this source.)

Kristof has been telling the stories of enslaved girls he finds around the world for a number of years; and it is partially through these accounts by this compassionate man in his NY Times columns that we know of the plight of girls in Cambodia and India.

I would, however, like to point out to him (and to WuDunn, in this instance) that “cater to customers” is a wildly and wholly inaccurate phrase for what is going on here. These brothelized girls are being raped on a daily basis. So the men are not ‘customers.’ They are rapists. My phrase for them, as I have mentioned, is ‘customer-rapists.’ We really do have to start getting accurate with our language. It needs to reflect the reality of prostitution. “Cater” won’t do it. Is the girl politely “catering” to the ‘rapist’s’ needs, as if she were serving him a cup of tea? This is what “cater” implies. No she is not doing that. She is being served up to him as a rape-hole, as a toilet, that he can empty himself into. To call him a ‘rapist’ accurately puts the blame where it largely resides: with the horrible men who do the buying. They are no longer ‘sanitized’ by being called ‘customers,’ as if they were simply walking in to purchase a cup of coffee and a breakfast bun. No, they are buying a body and destroying a life. They are inflicting extreme sexual and psychological pain on defenseless girls.

Do these men really not know about the force and torture tactics involved to make girls available for their use? How could they not know? You’d have to be as blind as an eyeless crow in a dark barn to be unaware of the misery of the girls. How could anyone assume that a girl who is beaten and ‘trained’ and terrorized so she will have sex with men (many men, in a lot of cases, which can cause excruciating physical damage) is really doing this ‘willingly.’ How could anyone assume that a girl would want her body all torn up by sex with so many men? Some sort of universal blindness or indifference must reign among these ‘customer-rapists’—those ‘ordinary’ men who go home to their wives and daughters after committing such an unthinkable act of sexual torture on a helpless girl.

Back to Kristof and WuDunn, they write that, to terrorize the girls, the brothel owners make them watch the murder of a “girl who had fought customers.” There’s that ‘customer’ word again. How can a man who is forcing himself on a fighting imprisoned sex slave be called a ‘customer’? He is a vile monster rapist—and remember he is also the man next door—the father, brother, cousin, boyfriend you know—The Rapist-Next-Door among us.

One of my most controversial ideas is that prostitution is always a form of rape. “But I was nice to her,” says the serviceman to me about his purchase of a Thai (Filipina, Korean, Russian—fill in the adjective) prostitute for a few days of companionship. “It was still rape since you bought a body,” I say. “After all, isn’t that slavery, buying a body?” (This is not to say that I would ever take this girl’s ‘job’ away from her or try to ‘rescue’ her. I would never be so presumptuous as to think I could help her in any way. And I bless the soldier who was nice to her. Better him than some ugly brute who would sodomize her with an umbrella and leave welts across her nipples from a coat hanger.)

I must just go with what I know. And what I have learned. All the conclusions I have come to about prostitution are based mostly on my own body and what happened to it. Most of the men who used me did not hurt me. Most of them did not excessively humiliate me. Most of them just wanted sex; and I smiled at them and did what I could to please and placate them since I knew, instinctively, that I was safer if I did not make them mad. As a prostitute, I had no protection if they hurt me. I was completely dependent on their mercy. And most had mercy.

I wasn’t trafficked and no pimps or owners or parents or uncles sold or controlled me. I could move around and go shopping for a book or buy a cup of tea and a muffin and sit at a sidewalk café on a sunny, pretty afternoon (but I rarely wanted to do this since, as a prostitute, I no longer felt a part of the world). I had it good. Compared to trafficked girls. Most of them don’t make it. If I had been trafficked, there would be no ‘Suki’ writing all these articles. I’d have been dead long ago. (Some readers, I am sure, would consider this alternative path for my life with joy and relief. No one named ‘Suki’ kicking up a fuss about this “harmless and necessary recreational activity” called prostitution, all fun-and-fuck for the boys.)

But, despite the freedom I worked under, I still have to define prostitution as a form of rape–even if you are having sex with a gentle client. You can’t really have a sexual situation where a man has the money and the power and the strength—and he feels entitled to purchase the most precious and intimate part of a woman—without it being a form of rape. The entire system is designed to benefit the dominant male and keep the submissive female in her place—as a body for one purpose—to be used for sex. Not for her pleasure, but for his. So, it is rape. Rape of all of us. Not just of the prostitute. No matter how gentle.

This little article is just for starters. We have much work to do—so that language will reflect the harsh sexual realities of our world.
"Your orgasm can no longer dictate my oppression"

Trisha Baptie
chaotic good
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Joined: Thu Dec 30, 2004 12:54 am

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