Damaged goods.

Posted on July 2, 2013


The second on our series of posts of whorephobic tropes and language.

This post is going to be slightly shorter  because there is already some good stuff out there on the net, but it is worth repeating just how wrong in every way the suggestion that the past experiences of sex workers mean they cannot be sex workers.

Melissa Farley (who if you are not familiar with wrote a guide to why women become sex workers which jokes about gangrape and incest) in what she laughingly calls research came up with the stat that 57% of sex workers were sexually  abused as children.  There are other places to discuss why she is discredited, disbarred and not allowed to give evidence in Canada. This post is about addressing the idea that previous traumatic sexual experiences mean someone cannot be a sex worker.

The simple reply to the stat*, is yeah, so what? The longer reply to the stat is that if a traumatic childhood experience disqualifies you from ever making the choice to have consensual sex again, then not just sex workers are in trouble.  According to the NSPCC 1 in 4 of young adults in the UK were severely abused as children. That is a quarter of the population. When people tout the damaged goods line they are actually saying that all those people are incapable of making informed choices about their sexual behavior as adults, which was exactly the same thing their abusers told them, you cannot choose, your consent is invalid.

So the slightly longer answer to the stat, regardless of its validity, is so the fuck what.

Were some sex workers abused as children?

Yes, as were some teachers, doctors, lorry drivers, taxidermists and politicians. Sexual abuse knows no boundaries of race, class, country or religion. Believing that sexual abuse is something that happens to others, others who then “exhibit” certain behaviour is damaging and victim blaming. It also leads directly to cases like Oxford and Rochdale. The victim of childhood sexual abuse could be the Jock on the sports team “proving” he isn’t gay, or the studious girl getting top grades, just as easily as the girl failing school, or the boy in trouble with the police.

Can sexual abuse as a child lead to poor decisions later in life? For some people yes, for some no. That’s the amazing thing about people , you cannot say everyone who goes through the same experience will react the same way. Even more importantly you cannot say an experience means they can never heal, never make decisions you respect, again.

Are sex workers sometimes raped?

Yes. This doesn’t mean their job is to blame, anymore than high heels and mini skirts are to blame. Rapists cause rape. Sex workers have the right to carry on their job after a rape, and incidentally to the same support non sex workers face (but that is the topic for a different blog), If you claim sex workers cannot consent to selling sexual services after a rape you are actually saying no one can fully consent to sex after a rape.

*Farley’s research barely deserves the name so another perfectly reasonable response to the stat is laughter.

Really important further reading. Content note, rape, police abuse, sexual violence

http://ananonymoussexworker.tumblr.com/post/53692701495/finding-my-voice A first hand account by a sex worker of rape and sexual assault she experienced, and why she isn’t damaged goods.

http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2010/11/16/license-to-rape/ Why the police are often the perpetrators, and a sex worker explaining why she didn’t report.

http://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2013/06/10/guest-columnist-sarah-woolley/ An amazing post by an ally who gets how damaging the damaged goods idea is.