Rebecca Whisnant and Christine Stark
Prostitution is a multi-billion dollar global industry that includes adult and child pornography, bartering sex for food and shelter, massage parlors, prostitution rings, stripping, saunas, live sex shows, street prostitution, escort services or outcall, ritual abuse, peep shows, phone sex, international and domestic trafficking, mail order bride services, and prostitution tourism.1 The prostitution industry is an enormously powerful and pervasive cultural presence. The religious right loudly condemns pornography and prostitution, especially railing about the immorality of prostituted women; at the same time, those who consider themselves liberal often regard the sex industry as a hip, cutting-edge, and liberating force. Although the two sides appear to be involved in a battle over the morality of prostitution, in reality men of all political persuasions buy and sell women and children in prostitution.
In contrast, since the 1970s, many feminists have been actively resisting prostitution and pornography as systems of exploitation and violence against women and children.2 These feminists emphasize that the harms of prostitution have nothing to do with the morality of those who are used within it, and everything to do with the choices and behavior of those who do the using—both the pimps who profit from selling women and children, and the millions of men who feel entitled to exchange money for sexual access. As a result of feminist analysis and activism, it has become more difficult for public discussion of these issues to avoid at least mentioning the feminist view of pornography and prostitution as matters of harm rather than offense, of women's human and civil rights rather than of religiously defined 'morality'.
There are now at least two generations of feminists who clearly understand the damage of prostitution and pornography to all women's safety and civil status, who passionately oppose their steady encroachment on our economy and public life, and who possess the insight, skills, and
1 As the foregoing list makes clear, we define pornography as a form of prostitution; thus
when we refer to 'prostitution' or 'the prostitution industry', we mean this to include
2 As Sheila Jeffreys has shown, contemporary feminist work against prostitution has
important historical antecedents. See Jeffreys' The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism
and Sexuality 1880–1930 (Spinifex Press, 1997) for a useful account of such work by
feminists in the late nineteenth century.