Mickey Z. -- World News Trust
Feb. 20, 2016
I first spoke with Rachel Moran in September 2015 when her uncompromising, riveting memoir Paid For: My Journey Through Prostitution was being released in the United States.
Since that time, she’s traveled extensively, talking about her book and meeting with women and girls in need of help. I’ve used those five-plus months to continue my efforts in learning more about this and related issues.
Now here we are, picking up our conversation as if we never stopped!
Mickey Z.: Hello again, Rachel! Since part 1 of our interview went live last year, I've witnessed the desperate smear campaign against you. In classic rape culture style, your opposition attempts to deny your story and over-write your reality. What do you say to those who make such claims?
Rachel Moran: You know Mickey, the denial of my history and the over-writing of what I’ve lived and witnessed is part of my life now. I accept its presence in the same way I accept the Irish rain. It’s just part of the environment. The thing to remember here is that these messages communicate more than one thing, because the lies and slander also communicate that I am viewed as a political threat. If I wasn’t, I’d be roundly ignored. But people don’t often ignore a political threat, and most certainly not when that threat is directed at a multi-billion-dollar trade. If I was not routinely libelled and slandered, I’d have to revisit either my politics or my style of delivering it, because I’d be going wrong somewhere with one or the other.
As to the lie that I never lived prostitution in the first place, that's either laughable or contemptible to me, depending on the mood I'm in. If it were true, I would be due a prescription for psychotropic drugs or an Oscar. Probably both.
MZ: It’s as if they’re consciously avoiding any evidence that might force them to reconsider their viewpoints.
RM: That’s exactly what they're doing, and for those who are committed to a pro-prostitution position from the point of view of ideology alone, they're doing it for a sound logical reason. It is not possible to view prostitution as a legitimate form of ‘labour’ or a matter of ‘women’s choice’ if we consider the glaring factors of influence at work here. A person cannot hold that line while considering the ugly reality of racial inequality, the social, educational and economic marginalisation inevitable to the function of capitalism, or the tsunami of global research that exposes vulnerabilities predicated on the prior existence of various forms of exclusion, exploitation and abuse. These factors combine to present an inconvenient truth. They cannot vindicate it, they cannot justify it, so they must ignore it.
MZ: You’ve also had your political message skewed and misrepresented, haven’t you?
Absolutely, and some of those misrepresentations are so far-fetched and removed from reality it'd blow your mind. For example, there are people out there who say I want to see women criminalized for being exploited in prostitution. The truth is I powerfully reject the idea of anyone in prostitution being criminalized for prostituting, either alone or in any other number. I always have and I always will, and I have said so to every politician and law enforcement person I have ever met, across more than twenty countries. People who believe I want to see prostituted women criminalized, in any circumstances, don't know the first thing about me or my politics. I campaign for the Nordic Model, which is the only social justice model of dealing with prostitution anywhere in the world. It decriminalizes exploited persons, criminalises those engaged in exploitation (be it financial or sexual) and opens up provisions for support in the areas of housing, healthcare, childcare, counselling, addiction services, education and training.
MZ: In light of all this, I’m wondering: is there a question you've always wished an interviewer would ask you but it hasn't happened yet?
RM: I can't say that there is a particular question I would have liked to have been asked that I haven't heard yet, but I would definitely like to see more of a sense of true comprehension on behalf of most interviewers; I'd like to see more of them try to relate to what prostitution really is and look at it from the perspective of what it would mean for their family members and for themselves. Interviewers usually engage in the subject in a very detached way, which is in one sense unsurprising as journalism is often dispassionate, and often needs to be, but we are talking about a one hundred billion dollar global human rights violation here. This is not the time to be dispassionate.
MZ: Well, in your book you do an excellent job of passionately describing the reality of being prostituted as you break down many of the common myths and misconceptions. Would you talk about some of them now?
RM: Well, first of all I think the myth of prostitution as 'sex work' should be laughed at with all the scorn it deserves. Sex is not and never has been work and no amount of linguistic gymnastics will make it so.
Another erroneous myth is the fantasy of prostitution as an expression of sexual liberation. What bothers me is the blatancy of the lie and the twisted mentality behind it, the way that it is deliberately designed to turn reality on its head. The submission to prostituted sex is motivated by desperation, destitution, fear of destitution, and various forms of extreme necessity, all of which create the conditions -- the conditions being fear and panic -- for the forcible sexual submission otherwise known as prostitution. People say that prostitution is consensual. It is not consensual, it is coerced, and there is nothing liberating about coercive sex.
The mythology of prostitution of course does not stop at mischaracterizing the experiences of the women. It also involves a very deliberate concealment and reconstruction of the motives and behaviours of the men. In this strategically purposeful deception we are fed the line that men are driven to buying sexual access to women out of loneliness because they have no women in their personal lives. Bullshit. Most men who prostitute women are married and many who aren’t have long term partners. We are also told many of them are disabled. More bullshit; most men who use women’s bodies in prostitution are able bodied. I had one disabled punter in seven years. We are also expected to believe these men have social inadequacies so debilitating they are incapable of striking up a conversation with a woman. More nonsense; I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of such men I met among thousands. None of the above would move my political position one jot if they were true, but they aren’t, and there is a distinct pattern here, so obvious it should be clear to anybody. The tactic is to frame these men as innocent victims of circumstance, suffering beneath the burden of various afflictions, and purchasing sexual access to women as a last desperate measure in the search for human comfort. This mischaracterization is ludicrous, but utterly necessary. We are, of course, supposed to feel sorry for them. But it goes deeper than that, much deeper. We must buy these false motives before we can condone their doing what they do.
MZ: I’ve seen you referred to a “trafficking survivor.” Can you tell the readers why this is inaccurate and explain a bit about how trafficking ties into prostitution, pornography, and more?
RM: I think that the language we use around this issue is enormously important. I know that some women say prostitution and trafficking are the same thing; what I say is that prostitution and trafficking are part of the same thing. If I tell you an apple and an orange are the same thing you'll look at me like I'm crazy, but there will be no argument if I tell you they are both fruit. We need to understand prostitution and trafficking as existing within the same system, and also being inextricably linked within that system. Women are trafficked in order to be prostituted. Sex trafficking exists as a phenomenon in order to funnel women into prostitution. A person who will not see this is a fantasist, and a person who cannot see it is a fool. Getting back to the issue of language, I have just used the term 'sex trafficking.' I've used it here to distinguish it from labour trafficking and trafficking in its other forms, but I do not like the phrase. I never have. I think it misses the point and that what's happening here would be better expressed as 'rape trafficking,' just as I think the system of prostitution would be better described as the 'flesh trade' rather than the 'sex trade.' The ‘sex trade’ seems to suggest that the ‘sex’ being sold is somehow discorporal, somehow disconnected from the women whose bodies are being used. One of the problems in discussing this subject is that we have been so long mired in misinformation about the system of prostitution that we cannot even describe it with adequate, accurate words. The lies are so pervasive, the words don't yet exist.
As to ‘trafficking’ language, I don't consider myself a trafficking survivor. U.S. federal law states that any minor in prostitution is a trafficking victim. If I had lived my exact experience in the United States, I would be able, and expected, to lay claim to being a trafficking survivor, but I didn't. I am an Irish woman. I was prostituted, not trafficked. Nor do I consider myself a member of the anti-trafficking movement, another way I've heard myself described. Of course I am opposed to trafficking, in all of its forms. I would hope that went without saying, but as far as my political affiliations are concerned, I am a member of the women's liberation movement, and we are opposed to the oppression of women in every way it manifests and are not interested in creating or sustaining a hierarchy of victim-hood. Other women in other countries however have a different understanding of the word, based on different political, legal and jurisdictional frameworks, and I respect that. Our group has members from seven nations, so we have to be flexible and understand that a global movement requires global language. There is a lot more that I could say about trafficking language but we simply don’t have time for it within the scope of this interview. But you also asked about how trafficking ties into prostitution and pornography. In short, all of these are systems within a larger system that encompasses them, and that system owes its existence to patriarchal oppression and to capitalism, the economic arm of patriarchy.
MZ: Knowing what you know and enduring what you’ve endured; I’d assume it all must weigh heavy at times. How do you find balance? What’s your daily life like now? Does Rachel Moran tune out a bit and just relax? If so, how?
RM: I have taken a beating mentally and emotionally these last years, no doubt about it. An absolute lifeline for me has been the women I know and love in the international women's movement. It's such a joy when we get to be together in the same rooms. The women I work with in SPACE International are especially dear to me, and I have made some very close friends outside of our group too through my activism. So, though the abuse and slander we’ve discussed is relentless, I am very comforted and protected by the women close to me. I have been doing an extraordinary amount of traveling since we last spoke. I've been through over half a dozen new countries and visited others I've already been to several times too, so relaxing time to myself has been fairly scarce, though I make time for myself to be alone when I get back to Ireland. I enjoy the tranquillity of walking by myself.
MZ: In your recent travels, what’s been the general reaction to Paid For?
RM: It's been very well received and is about to go into three new countries including two new translations, so that's great. The reviews have generally been very good, though I did get one written by someone so blatantly biased she basically forgot to review my book and instead wrote a review of her own positive feelings about the global sex trade! That was funny. I was a bit appalled at first but it was so off-the-wall I ended up laughing about it with my friends. I was on holiday in Italy at the time with several feminists including British journalist Julie Bindel, who told me I "had it coming" because I was "fucking spoiled with book reviews." We screamed laughing.
I've just come back from India where I was doing public presentations and interviews in the red light zones of Calcutta and Delhi. It was very heart-warming to feel the reaction of the girls on hearing about the campaigning I'm involved in. These girls grew up in the red light zone; prostitution was in their future from the time they were first held in their mother’s arms. One girl thanked me for what I was doing and told me that, in her religion, there are two goddesses, one is the goddess of love and the other the goddess of wrath, and that she could sense the spirit of both goddesses in me. I don't know how I managed not to cry.
MZ: I don’t know either because I’m legit weeping right now! On that note, Rachel, let me take a minute to thank you -- not only for making time for two eye-opening and enlightening conversations with me, but also for all you do. Thank you for channeling the spirits of countless goddesses in the name of saving others. Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up? How can folks buy your book, learn more about your work, get in touch?
RM: Thank you, Mickey. Paid For can be found on Amazon. As for supporting SPACE International, anyone interested in donating can contribute right here. All the funds received will be used in fighting pimps and traffickers and in raising the voices of survivors so as to shut down the global system of prostitution, and to campaign for the provision of viable exit strategies for those exploited within that system. Huge thanks in advance to anyone who supports us. We need all the help we can get and we appreciate every bit of it.
Mickey Z. is the author of 13 books, most recently Occupy these Photos: NYC Activism Through a Radical Lens. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, you can “like” his Facebook page here and follow his blog here. Anyone wishing to support his activist efforts can do so by making a donation here.
"Everything You Know About 'Sex Work' is Wrong (Part 2)" by Mickey Z. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at http://worldnewstrust.com/everything-you-know-about-sex-work-is-wrong-part-2-mickey-z.