International Women’s Day 2022

by Daphna Whitmore

As over a million people – mostly women and children – flee Ukraine there are stories of people welcoming them with real solidarity. There are also more grim stories of pimps and traffickers preying on desperate women. Some reports say women have accepted offers to cross the border ‘free’ but when they reached the neighbouring country, money is demanded. The situation is made worse by the conscription of men between 18 and 60 in Ukraine.

A study from the United Nations’ International Labour Organization estimated 3.8 million adults and 1 million children were victims of forced sexual exploitation in 2016 around the world. There are an estimated 40 million women in prostitution.

War is boom time for the sex industry. The modern sex industry took off in the sixties and seventies during the Vietnam war when the US opened mega brothels in Thailand for its soldiers. The brothels stayed open for tourists and have become entrenched.

The HIV/AIDs epidemic in the 1990s saw a big push to legitimise the trade with the fight against the spread of HIV and the need to distribute condoms. A huge NGO industry formed around the message of safe sex, but it disregarded the oppression of women in the industry in its efforts to normalise and legitimise the sex trade.

From normalisation, in which the sex trade is treated like any other business, the trend now is almost veneration of the industry. Postmodernists and queer theorists frame the sex trade as a norm-violating industry in which women have agency, are breaking down boundaries and are challenging gender roles. They see critics of the trade as oppressors and authoritarian prudes. Yet it is the sex trade that is authoritarian and the antithesis of sexual liberation. For it is sex where only one party wants sex, the woman simply needs money.