Prostitution vs Abortion: choice and body sovereignty~ 4 min

Image by Duarte Guerreiro

By Aline Rossi

Part two of three. Part one: Prostitution vs Abortion: neither a profession nor a crime.

2. If she can choose to abort, why can’t she choose to prostitute herself?

Such a question is only possible within the framing explained in the previous section: that to oppose the professionalization of prostitution implies being against choice and, consequently, in favor of criminalizing the prostituted person. Abortion and prostitution are a false symmetry.

Abortion is about a woman doing something with her own body. Prostitution is about someone else doing something to a woman’s body.

Fundamentally, what is being discussed is not actually a woman’s right to decide over her own body – this should not even be a topic of discussion; in fact, nobody debates what a man can or can not do with his own body –, but if anyone else (usually a man) can pay to do something to somebody else’s body (usually a woman).

Is paying for sex a right? Who has that right? Who enjoys that right? If it is a right, someone is obliged to provide it. Can he pay and demand it from anyone? If not, who decides which bodies can be bought and which can’t? Which bodies are effectively bought today and which bodies buy them? And what does this say about the status of these different people in society?

Without fallacies and mis-contextualization, it is almost impossible to compare prostitution to any other situation in the world. In the sexuality paradigm, the closest thing might be the debate over female genital mutilation.

It is impossible to disassociate female genital mutilation from the social and cultural construction process. It is possible, however, to say that many girls and women effectively “consent” and “choose” genital mutilation. Yes, it seems absurd. But because the practice has been ritualized and, beyond compulsory, it has been transformed into a matter of status in the community, to refuse mutilation is to not be accepted. It is to be different, to not be integrated and to “opt” to be judged by the entire community around you. To be treated like a stranger in your own context.

Mutilation, like prostitution, is something that scars a girl for the rest of her life. Including her whole adult life, up until the moment she dies, bringing along physical and emotional health risks. But nobody in their right mind would talk about maintaining the mutilation practice because “some choose it” or “some consent to it”. Nobody would claim a mutilation might be “empowering” and “liberating” if a girl “chooses” to have one. Let us not even talk about “protecting the right to choose of those who want to be mutilated”.

We know it is compulsory for most. We know the conditions in which it happens. We know what such a practice was built out of, whom it benefits and that its existence and causality is political. We know, ultimately, that the debate is not about choice. Period. This is not in question, and to do so would be to blame the victim.

Why do we only have doubts about choice and consent when it comes to women’s sexuality? Why, in such cases, do we seem incapable of questioning the aggressors?

Precisely because prostitution is more about someone having a right to do something to a woman’s body instead of a woman’s right to submit her body to whomever or whatever she wants, the matter of sovereignty over her own body becomes irrelevant.

The essential question that needs to be answered is then: does the buyer infringe upon the universal human right that the prostituted person has over her own body? Is the sovereignty over her own body not automatically violated when someone pays for “consent”?

Why is it that, for women, sovereignty and choice is about their right to submit to men?

End of part two. Part three: Prostitution vs Abortion: legality and vulnerability

Aline Rossi writes in Portuguese at the blog Feminismo com Classe, where she also publishes translated feminist texts from all over the world at a prolific pace.

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