Challenging the commodification of sex

Dr. Davena Rankin
Dr. Davena Rankin

Backing a Fire Brigades Union motion, UNISON’s Davena Rankin called for a campaign to expose the social causes of prostitution, including women’s poverty, and to criminalise men’s purchase of sex, rather than its sale.

The motion said that the commodification of sex and the objectification of women’s bodies are shown to be a contributory factor in violence against women and girls.

It was a contentious debate, recognised by Davena when she said: “Sisters, when I started to write this speech, I thought about the arguments delegates may put forward in opposition to this motion because I wanted to address my comments directly to them and to the women in this hall who are still undecided on how they will vote on this important issue.”

It was also recognised in the vote as it was carried but with a number of abstentions.

Davena told delegates: “Some will argue that it’s a women’s right to choose what she does with her body. If it really was only about freedom of choice why is it that 75% of women who are in prostitution first became involved as children and why does research show that about half started in prostitution when they were homeless or that about half were coerced into it by someone?

“How can it really be a free choice if a women is emotionally and physically traumatized before she even enters into prostitution?”

Davena made no apologies for focusing her comments on women almost all punters are male and the vast majority who are bought and sold in prostitution are female.  However, that is not to suggest that prostitution is any less damaging to boys or men, however, “we must work to protect the many and not just the few.”

“Do we want a society where no means no…. but not if the price is right?”, asked Davena.

“What society do we really want – one that sees women’s bodies as commodities – to be used and abused and cast aside when damaged or one that values all women?

In a poignant final comment, Davena said: “I want to finish with a quote from a survivor of prostitution about how she felt when working: ‘I’d numb my feelings… I’d actually leave my body and go somewhere else with my thoughts and feelings until he got off me and it was over with. I don’t know how else to explain it except it felt like rape. It was rape to me.'”

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