Susan S.M. Edwards
Prostitution is, in the public mind, defined as the sale of sexual intercourse. Women who sell sex become prostitutes in the commodity exchange of sex for favours in kind or for money. Prostitution in both everyday and legal discourse, however, does not always result in the sale of sexual intercourse. In legal discourse this point was illustrated in the case of R versus de Munck (1918) 1 KB 635, where Darling described a prostitute as 'a woman who offers her body for acts of lewdness for payment'. The law then well understood the plethora of male requests for sexual and related services. Yet, for the most part studies of prostitution have rarely addressed the specific forms of services demanded of women or the nature of the prostitute's encounters with male clients, or how women try in these apparently 'intimate' sexual incidents to retain their autonomy whilst segmenting and selling parts of their body as commodities. Prostitute women, in their effort to retain their autonomy and private space, demarcate and rigidly define quite precisely certain conduct and behaviour as beyond bounds in the truly intimate encounters, thereby placing boundaries around certain parts of the body, and certain symbolically significant acts, privatizing specific aspects of socalled sex and intimacy. Such boundary defining is essential for survival and whilst this has little bearing on the fundamentally exploitative characteristic of prostitution, it is an essential survival strategy for women who sell sex.
In debates dealing with prostitution as exploitation there are those who argue that if prostitution were to be accepted within society and prostitute women assimilated and treated as any other women this would negate any exploitation, because women would be in control of their lives. Some prostitute organizations, notably the International Committee for Prostitutes Rights (ICPR) (cf. Pheterson, 1989), campaign for 'rights' for prostitute women, including the right to work as prostitutes. This, of course, like the parody of Plato's 'happy slave', is flimsy embourgeoisement, and cannot alter the fundamental exploitation that exists nor the indisputable fact of commodity exchange, nor the enduring fact of patriarchy, however improved are the work conditions or social status of the prostitute. As Evelina Giobbe, a former prostitute and founder member of WHISPER, (Women