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65 A lot of men enjoyed bringing me in as a third party with their wives. Usually what would end up happening is we’d watch some pornographic film, say, and then he’d say, “All right, I want you to do that to my wife.” Now, in these instances, I felt the wife was the victim, and that I was there to hurt the wife. I felt there was a real power play there, where the man was obviously saying to the wife, “If you don’t do this, I’m going to leave you.” I mean there were great overtones of manipulation and coercion. —Giobbe 1994, 124 Depending on how they are socially positioned, different women face distinct forms of manipulation and coercion. In the epigraph for this chapter, the narrator, the wife, and the actors in the pornographic film encounter varying shades, forms, and tonalities of power and violence against them. Among other things, they stand in different relation to the law, to safety, to convention. Paying attention to difference allows us to extract the various meanings of the same space for each of the women. Seeing more than one meaning is a precondition to analyzing the differences in the violence. This would help us to forge a multifaceted movement against violence against woman that emerges from women’s activities and analyses. Solutions need to speak to the particularities of women’s situations and their ways of responding to them. By putting the most marginalized women at the center, we can broaden the narrow view of violence. Women who live outside of the dominant norms, such as women in the sex industry,1 face violence that is publicly disavowed. This chapter focuses on their accounts of violence. The aim is to explore two related themes: first, a range of views of what counts as violence to women who work as prostitutes, and second, the obstacles they have to being heard in their accounts of violence. Speech at the Margins Women in Prostitution and the Counterpublic Sphere CHAPTER tHREE 66 structural violence Women in prostitution do not, of course, all share the same notion of sex work, exploitation, what counts as violence, choice, the law, solutions, and so on. As we shall see below, some women who work as prostitutes use the language of choice and decision making to describe a woman’s agency in prostitution (including the choice to prostitute or engage in other forms of sex work). Others reject this as limited by the framework of a liberal understanding of agency and the contract in favor of an account of prostitution that emphasizes systematic and structural sexual oppression of women. Still others have argued that “the argument over whether sex work is either exploitative or liberating is a ridiculous one . . . and has little relevance to the complex, contradictory, and widely varied experiences of sex workers” (Lerum, 1998, 8, cited in Rabinovitch and Straga, 2004). Hedging on whether women who work in prostitution “choose” to, Rosen and Venkatesh (2008) characterize as ‘circumscribed choice’ the decision to prostitute, given the often meager alternative economic opportunities they see. In the following, I will try to situate the position of each speaker since it affects what he or she views as violence. Many of the women I discuss below situate their positions within the debate on whether to legalize prostitution and the related debate of whether to decriminalize it. But exploring this debate is not the focus of this chapter. Nevertheless, the terms of the debate are present throughout, since one’s position on legalization tends to have a bearing on her understanding of the violence involved in sex work. Those who see prostitution as inherently coerced, violent, and degrading (Giobbe 1991), usually argue that prostitution should not be legal. Others see that blanket condemnation of prostitution as “infantilizing” women who do decide to engage in sex work (Agustín 2007). Those who argue that prostitution is largely undertaken as free choice (e.g., Agustín 2006) tend to believe that women should be allowed to practice sex work. Some have tried to reconcile these positions by seeing sex work as exploited labor—that is, as work that is both chosen and violent (Hernández-Truyol and Larson 2002); for them, working as a prostitute could be likened to working in a sweatshop: prostitutes ought to be able to press legal claims if they are due wages or forced to work in unsafe conditions, even as their employers (pimps, johns...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781438443454
Related ISBN
9781438443430
MARC Record
OCLC
817565684
Pages
208
Launched on MUSE
2012-11-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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