“Sexual exploitation is a practice by which person(s) achieve sexual gratification or financial gain or advancement through the abuse of a person’s sexuality by abrogating that person’s human right to dignity, equality, autonomy, and physical and mental well-being… it is the right of every human being to live free of exploitation… sexual power is a class condition of women that supersedes all practices that treat prostitution as sex work and a free choice of women in it.” 
The split. This is the separation between the self and the body, a defense against trauma, as Swedish author Kajsa Ekis Ekman defines it in her book Being and Being Bought. Through this split, a woman moves from being connected to being a commodity, and accepting the objectification of her body.
There was a young girl very dear to me who experienced this split in all of its perplexity. Here is the story: She was eleven years old when the fine line between trust and betrayal was crossed. Despair broke through her innocence, and the two worlds of life and shame collided.
Every time she was used, shamed, and tossed aside, in those most vulnerable moments she would turn her head to the side, and see her Self standing there in the doorway, completely separate. As she grew she continued to see this image. Only her Self did not grow as she did. Eight years later, her Self was still the eleven-year-old little girl. Standing, watching, broken.
She numbed her emotions and body. When she stopped feeling the bad, she stopped feeling the good. The split, instead of protecting her, stole her life. Feelings were void. Her heart had forgotten how to respond, her mind had forgotten how to react, and her soul had forgotten how to connect.
She felt valued for what her body offered. Because of the split every bit of her worth and validation was left there. Maybe, somewhere in the world of prostitution, she would feel whole. Maybe, the false sense of power in possessing all that is so desired by men would validate her purpose.
In situations like these, can we really call it a choice when women are prostitutes and haven’t been “forced” into it? Are these underlying prisons from this little girl’s background not forceful enough? Any woman in the sex industry that I have talked to that said they “want to be there” will reveal—after a little digging—that she has a background similar to this little girl’s.
Arguing that the most empowering thing we can do for women is to let them choose to sell their bodies is a lazy acceptance of these women’s captivity. It is taking advantage of a significant group of society.
There are many assumptions that predicate the use of one’s body for sex. Is the assumption that legalized prostitution will improve the prostitutes’ safety and working conditions worth the risk? Won’t improving their working conditions simply glamorize their captivity? Regardless of whether a prison cell is more comfortable or not, the prisoner still isn’t free. Will they really acquire a safer clientele due to legalization?
Why is selling other body parts illegal, while buying and selling a woman’s body parts is embraced? Sometimes, we have to link arms and choose empowerment for others. Sometimes, we have to set up safeguards to prevent people from harming themselves. All forms of sexual exploitation are a violation of human rights and human dignity, whether the victim realizes they are a victim or not.
So, this has not been the most uplifting blog post thus far. Unfortunately, there are too many stories like this one. What can we do?
We can focus efforts on decreasing the demand so that the supply is virtually ineffective. We do this by dismantling the business of brothels, banning the purchase of sex, and connecting the women with resources in society.
I do not believe that women voluntarily sign themselves up for all of the health implications and dangers that they will face in the sex industry simply because it sounds empowering.
Empowerment looks like a woman choosing to leave that life, and using her mind and skills to build a life for herself and her family. There is never an excuse to cause or accept the exploitation of a human body, especially for sexual pleasure. We must de-normalize the issue so that those responsible can see with clear eyes the horrors that lie in the buying and selling of women for sex, whether it is their “choice” or not.
It is time to fight for these women, and it is time to empower them to fight for themselves. While this takes more commitment on society’s part, it is worth it.
They are more than worth it.
Let’s help them learn how to reunite their split Selves through resiliency and empowerment, and to walk in hope, freedom, and empowerment into a future that far outshines the past.
Barry, Kathleen. 2012. “Abolishing Prostitution: A Feminist Human Rights Treaty.”Abolishing Prostitution: A Feminist Human Rights Treaty. http://www.womensmediacenter.com/feature/entry/abolishing-prostitution-a-feminist
 Ekman, Kajsa. 2014. Being and Being Bought: Prostitution, Surrogacy, and the Split Self.