Natasha Walter writes that the number of sexual assaults increased in Camden Town in London after lap-dancing clubs opened. Dr Magnanti has shown in that this research (done by the Lilith Project) is false. She devotes the whole of Chapter 4 of her book to showing how poor the Lilith Project research is.
Other 'facts' in Living Dolls are:-
- two-thirds of prostitutes have been assaulted by clients
- 85% of prostitutes reported physical abuse in the family
- 45% reported familial sexual abuse
- a majority of prostitutes involved before age of 16 or 17
- all have a problem with alcohol misuse
- majority used hard drugs
All these figures are to set us up for her conclusion that prostitution isn't a real choice and therefore it is acceptable to take that choice away from women.
"Despite the fact that they have not necessarily been forced into this work, these women are not exempt from levels of abuse that make a mockery of the normalisation of prostitution."She then goes on to write that 6 prostitutes are murdered every year. She doesn't write that no prostitutes are killed in New Zealand or the Netherlands. She doesn't write that the reason prostitutes get killed in Britain in because people like her stand in the way of simple changes in the law that would make women a lot safer and probably remove the threat of death altogether.
The figures of 85% of prostitutes reporting physical abuse in the family and 45% reporting familial sexual abuse are dealt with by Dr Magnanti in Chapter 8. The research was the result of a handful of interviews, no control group, and is statistically pointless.
Walter writes in Living Dolls that she met and talked to a prostitute she calls Angela. Angela used words like 'dissociate' and 'psyche'. This reminded me of an article I read in the Guardian a few years ago by Emine Saner: 'You're consenting to being raped for money'. Saner wrote that she met and talked to a prostitute she called Karen. Karen also used these words. "You have to learn to dissociate your body from your mind which is dangerous for your psyche."
Could Angela and Karen be the same person? Angela in Living Dolls said "Basically you've consented to being raped sometimes for money". Karen in the Saner article said "Basically you've consented to being raped for money". Other things tie up in the two accounts. So who is Angela/Karen?
I did consider the possibility that she is a fantasist or someone like Valerie Lempereur who under the name Patricia Perquin wrote a book claiming to show the life of a Dutch prostitute in Amsterdam. Only it was a fabrication. Right-wing politicians used this book to push through changes in legislation restricting prostitution (just as feminist groups have been using the false statistic about Camden lap-dancing clubs to change the law to try and stop more clubs opening). Or perhaps Angela/Karen is a radical feminist (or a religious fundamentalist) who makes up stuff because she thinks she is helping the anti-prostitution cause. She is certainly a mouthpiece for feminist concepts such as dissociation.
When I re-read the Saner article carefully I realised that there was a lot of information that Karen has given about her career as a prostitute that Walter hasn't mentioned at all. Karen said that she's not a drug addict, she uses her earnings to save for her pension as well as pay her bills, she only needs to see five men per week to get enough money and the most men she has seen in one day is three. She gets paid £130 per hour (it used to be £170 till Eastern Europeans pushed prices down), has earned £1,500 in one sex session, and never has unprotected sex. When asked if she has experienced violence she answered 'Nearly' and refuses to see a man for a second time if she finds him physically unattractive.
It seems that Angela/Karen is more like Belle de Jour than Natasha Walter would like us to know. So I'm inclined to believe that Angela/Karen isn't a fabrication, if she'd wanted to make it all up to further the anti-prostitution cause then she could have made a better job of it.
Angela said that men sometimes asked if they could tie her up or gag her. Some also asked to have a threesome. It appears Angela didn't comply with these requests, yet she uses these as evidence that prostitution is becoming more violent.
Walter mentions the genre of books that include The Intimate Confessions of a London Call Girl by Belle de Jour and Confessions of a Working Girl by Miss S. She dismisses the former but regards the latter as gospel truth. Miss S wrote that she continued to work in a brothel despite having a damaged, swollen and bleeding vagina.
She writes about PunterNet reviews and picks out some of the worst of them, using them as examples of what punters really think about sex workers. The reviews that she uses however are not representative of PunterNet reviews generally.
So what does the chapter in her book about prostitution add up to? Some statistics that might have been true of drug-addicted street prostitutes at one time, used to suggest that this is the reality of prostitution. The musings of Angela/Karen about her injured psyche (but nothing about her career as a prostitute because that would contradict the dodgy statistics). An unreliable paperback memoir. And some unrepresentative PunterNet reports. Not much really, is it?
It seems that what Natasha Walter is really bothered about is what she calls 'unemotional sex' or 'sex without much emotional engagement'. Lust is an emotion, but the emotion that she's thinking about is intimacy. She seems to think that sex without intimacy is degrading. As Angela said in Living Dolls: "All this push to get women to buy into porn and it's values - it's turning all women into paid or unpaid sex workers." As Karen said in the Saner article: "I believe there is a conspiracy to turn women into readily accessible semen receptacles." Natasha Walter is worried about 'The Return of Sexism'. I'm more worried about the return of Puritanism.
A woman can't consent to being raped. That's a contradiction in terms. It seems that the phrase 'Basically you've consented to being raped sometimes for money' was used by Angela only in the context of men asking to tie her up and gag her, perhaps because they wanted to enact a rape fantasy. She didn't think that all sex work is rape, although that makes a good headline for an article. Similarly, if you're a sex worker then you are paid for sex. There is no such thing as an unpaid sex worker.
What you get from reading Living Dolls is the idea that if a woman has sex without emotions/intimacy/commitment then she might just as well be a prostitute. The idea is that women don't really want promiscuous sex as fun, that it's only pressure from men or porn culture that makes women want to do it. That seems to me not only wrong but old fashioned and regressive. I don't have a problem with people wanting commitment, but it's not right for them to try and force it on the rest of us.