"look me in the eyes"
I just found this text and for some reason I didn’t publish it back when I wrote it, but here it is.
I’m on my way home from a friend’s house. It’s about 2 o’clock on Easter Sunday. I’m at the very end of Torstrasse and the combination of having no clue what the S-Bahn situation is like since it’s a public holiday and the fairly warm evening, makes me decide to walk to Alexanderplatz. Walking down Oranienburger Strasse is the fastest way to get to Alexanderplatz from where I am so it’s very much the natural choice, but I still hesitate. I’m not really sure I want to expose myself to that walk tonight, but the option of taking another route isn’t all that appealing either. Especially since Mitte tends to play tricks with my head and make me confused about where I am at times, something that has every potential of leading to rather time-consuming detours and I really don’t feel like that either right now. So I go with the natural choice and start heading down Oranienburger Strasse. The first few blocks are easy, they always are. There’s too many restaurants crammed into too little space for there to be anything but eating and drinking going on in that part of the street. But as soon as you get close to the Synagogue it starts. And I brace myself, try to prepare for what’s to come.
I see her coming towards me. Dark hair, white tights, no heels, that’s unusual, and the ever-present fanny pack. Worn on the front of the body, never on the hip like in the techno crowd. She appears to be somewhere in her early twenties but she’s wearing too much make-up to really be able to detect any age. We don’t look at each other, we just pass like the strangers we are, pretending not to see each other. As she walks away behind me I can feel my anxiety levels rise. I look up and in front of me I already see the next one. She’s having a conversation with a man clad in pastel colors. He looks very gay, nothing like the usual punter, and I catch myself wondering if he’s her pimp. A few steps away there are two more. Blonde hair extensions, dressed in white and with corsets. They all have corsets and hot pants. It’s like a uniform. And at that point I just feel like crying. Across the street there are two more girls, also blonde, they are surrounded by a group of teenage boys and I’m happy I have my iPod so I don’t have to hear anything of the conversation. What is going to be the outcome of that situation? Is this the night when these boys will learn that you can buy access to a woman’s body? I want to throw up when I think about it.
I once heard it being claimed that one of the first signs things were slowly going back to the way they were before the wall was the return of the prostitutes on Oranienburger Strasse. I don’t know if it’s true they were gone during the DDR times, but it is true that this street has been a hub in the Berlin street prostitution scene for centuries. And it still is.
There’s by no means anything even resembling global consensus when it comes to the question on whether prostitution can be considered an occupation or if it’s a crime and there are accompanying differences in legislation across the globe. In some countries the main focus is on the moral aspect and the outcome is usually a criminalization of prostitution with the main focus on the prostitutes themselves. In 1999 Sweden passed a law criminalizing the buyers. In practice this means that it’s not illegal to sell sexual services, but it is illegal to purchase them. The reasoning behind this law is that the human body shouldn’t be for sale, but that the fault doesn’t lie with the seller, but rather with the person trying to buy another persons body. This legislation with its focus on the buyer is pretty unique and so far only Norway and Iceland have passed similar laws. In other countries the morality aspect is not part of the calculation and the focus lies on the choice aspect. Germany is one of these countries. By this logic prostitution is legal as long as there’s no element of force involved. But what constitutes force? That’s what I’m contemplating as I walk down the street and see all these girls waiting to be picked up by customers. Most of them are alone, some in pairs, but somewhere there’s a pimp. Either within visual range or just a phone call away. They are not here alone and they are not going to get to keep the money they make. How did these girls end up here in these clothes on this street in this city? What cruel twist of faith lead them here and how will they ever be able to get away from this street with their souls intact?
Almost every time I talk to someone about prostitution they will have an example of someone they have heard saying that she, because it’s usually a woman, is in the game by her own choice and that she thinks it’s a good way to make her income. And I’m sure it’s true, I’m sure there are women out there who say that, but I also know it’s true that all the women I have talked to, and they are quite a few, who have gotten out of prostitution say the opposite. A lot of them also told me that while they were in it, they also used to claim they were doing it voluntarily, because who want’s to admit they are doing something they don’t actually want to be doing? It’s a pride thing. We humans really care about our pride, we take great care about not losing face. And I’m not claiming that the women who are in prostitution and who claim they are there because the actually want to are lying, all I’m saying is that I haven’t really met anyone who claimed the same thing once they got out. Putting your body through something like that on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis does things to your soul. Especially when you see the reflection of yourself in the eyes of society, in the eyes of the punters. The contempt.
No one really knows how common sexual violence against children really is but it’s estimated that roughly one in every five girls will be sexually molested before she reaches adulthood, for boys the number is one in ten, but in the realm of sex work it’s the ones who haven’t been sexually abused as children who are in the minority. Because selling your body for money isn’t something you decide to do over night, it’s a gradual process. A process in which the boundaries are constantly moving and the value of your body slowly decreases. And with a history of sexual abuse you really have a head start. You’ve already been thoroughly taught that you can be used by other people, that it can’t really be avoided, that they’ll do it whether you want them to or not, so why not make sure they at least have to pay for it? And you know they like you. They may not respect you, but they do like you. They like what you let them do to you.
Confirmation. Is that what it’s all about? I don’t know, but humans will go to great lengths to get confirmation. To get tangible evidence that you are actually being perceived by other people, that you exist outside your own head, and that what’s being perceived is benevolently accepted. Or to put it simply – we all really want to be liked. We will go to great lengths to achieve that feeling of being liked. And of course it’s really good if you manage to muster up enough of that feeling for yourself, that you like yourself a lot, but it’s a lot easier to get a high on the projections from other people. It just feels really good to be liked by someone else. To be appreciated. Some people work themselves to an early death through stress related diseases for that feeling, some people put their bodies through surgery, others put out on the first date. We all just want to be liked.
There’s nothing morally wrong with selling your body for money, not any worse than selling it for status, appreciation, confirmation. Putting out for confirmation or for money, it’s just different divisions in the same game. Prostitution is just the clearest manifestation of the perverted world order we have. And I’m not sure exactly how that world order is impacted by the criminalizing this most blatant manifestation of its errors. But what I can say is that it does seem too twisted, too illogical, to make it a criminal offense to sell your body, because where do we draw the line? At a pure financial transaction? But how are we then to look at house wives? Married women who do not have their own income. Are they prostitutes? I don’t think society wants to have them included in the definition. The line gets blurred. There’s no actual difference, we’re just at different places on the same scale.
No, there’s nothing morally wrong with selling your body for money, it’s yours to do what you want with. But there is something fundamentally wrong with thinking that it’s ok to buy access to someone else’s body. You can never claim the right to another persons body. There is not a single situation where that would be reasonable. Our bodies are ours. They are the house our souls live in. And the only people who should have access to your house are those you invite, not the ones who bribe you. It’s just as wrong for a husband to think that he can demand sex from his housewife as it is for a punter to think he can purchase sex from the girl standing there in her white corset by Monbijouplatz at 2 in the morning. We all want to be liked and this world would be a better place if we stopped taking advantage of that.