I first set foot in a brothel during my university years. It was an interesting experience for a number of reasons, but mostly for one unavoidable fact it shoved into the limelight.
That fact came to mind when I read of Auckland residents and prostitutes battling over street space a few years ago, heard the same in Hamilton later, and saw an update on the same war being waged in Christchurch this week.
The rooms I entered all those years ago were temples to the dissatisfaction of a nation, filled with priestesses and priests promising reprieve – for a fee.
That’s where the lesson came in. The fee. I realised the sexual liberation campaigner, who fought hard to legalise prostitution as a choice, had in fact achieved the opposite of sexual freedom. They had made sex less free.
That fee tells another story too. It tells us that no matter how we regulate and advocate and necessitate health checks for workers, we’ll never be able to bring this industry out of the shadowlands and into the light.
Why? Because it is an industry built on desires found in shadowy corners of the human heart.
I’m not being a moral prude. I’m merely being practical. If a man feels desperate enough to pay for that which should to be free, think what must be going on in his heart. His appetite is either desperately underfed or desperate to be overfed, whether it be for company, love or sex. Whatever the case, his life can only be very tragic to have to pay to find friendship, a feeling or physical intimacy.
I won’t pretend, along with the faux feminists or sexperts, that the women involved aren’t very often victims. While it is nice of them to feed endless stories to our media about high-end, educated, “I have a way out” women-of-the-night, we ought first here to listen to the voice of the poor and the oppressed, the voice of the vulnerable.
Surely, they deserve a say too?
They do speak, by the way. In few and far-between reviews that show prostitutes are disproportionately women, less educated, and lack qualifications for other work. Reviews that tells us these women seem often to have been sexually abused as children, and are often under financial pressure.
The women speak silently, too, in stories like the ones in Christchurch, or Hamilton or Auckland. They speak in tiny details like the defecation done in public, the syringes left on lawns, and the hard words hurled into the black night.
Sometimes, silent stories speak the loudest.
That brings me back to sexual freedom, and its cost. As soon as we pay for any product in society we create a cost – but not just a financial cost. There are environmental costs, social costs, relational costs and all sorts of other costs we are only just discovering in every business on earth.
We are kidding ourselves to pretend there aren’t costs in this industry too. But in this case the product we consume is a person. The costs, then, must be personal.
And that is what the stories from Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch remind us.
Are we proud to pass over such public pleas for help in favour of the well-heeled corporate madam saying in soothing tones that all is well? Are we pleased to pretend laws more than a decade old are producing the right effect?
I’m not. When you count in people, the cost of our current system is too high.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz