For the last years I was researching such repulsive topics as human trafficking, illegal immigration in the developing countries, prostitution and more. This was by way of gathering materials for my upcoming book “Carne”, due next year. The book’s title is a reference to a movie with the same name, starring Isabel Sarli and produced by that prominent Argentinian, Armando Bo. At first I thought to write a series of articles on these diverse subjects, but as the materials accumulated and my understanding grew deeper, I have made up my mind to write this book.
What finally swayed me towards writing the book and not the articles was this: not one country of those I have visited or researched was able to solve those problems. The criminal world of human trafficking, drug trafficking, adult industry and illegal immigration remains as much of an issue now as it ever had been. Here is why.
If prostitution and adult industry are verboten, either by criminalization of the women or of their clients, like in the Islamic countries – and in some European ones as well – a huge black market springs forth. It feeds the pimps, the local bureaucrats, the police; all these nice folks create a criminal, corrupt business network in the state’s shadow – but they are also bound to it. In the Islamic countries there are additional issues, like the legality of slave trade, as in ISIS, or the ‘normalcy’ of rape of illegal female immigrants in Saudi Arabia and UAE. This was made possible by denying these people all and any rights – starting with the right to police protection – and by Nazi-like interpretation of the rape laws (a rape is more often than not blamed on the victim who ‘seduced’ the rapist). Another important factor is the privileged position of men relative to women: the former are considered by law and courts to be twice as valuable even when the woman in question is a citizen of the land; as for an immigrant from, for instance, Indonesia, why, she has no importance and no weight in the proceedings at all. In the land where a woman is worth half a man, a foreign woman is worth nothing.
If, on the other hand, prostitution is decriminalized, like in Ukraine, the situation is, alas, not much better. The girls, instead of being pursued by the state, are being bullied by the police – formally, this is done privately, but in reality the state always has the back of its security forces. In the countries where the sex-related industry is seemingly legal, the black market serves the illegal immigrants and the women who want to earn money that way but without anyone learning about their profession. Worse, this sector of the shadow economy swiftly becomes entangled with the other sectors – like the drug trafficking, illegal immigration and even the smuggling of exotic animals. (I have encountered this last a few times and can attest to its marginal importance). The result is a vast and swiftly growing shadow structure which is controlled by the same bureaucrats, but under the table. The women who choose to work in the seemingly legal adult industry more often than not end up dependent on the same pimps, except these are now calling themselves ‘sex-workers unions’. These unions are constantly at war with one another and also internally; anyone opposing them jeopardizes his or her life – see, for instance, the murder of Sandra Cabrera in Rosario, Argentina. The police there was trying to take over the prostitutes’ union, in order to force them into semi-slavery, denying them payment and demanding they ‘service’ 30 to 40 clients per day. They employed various methods, from confiscating their papers to threats and beatings. Sandra Cabrera tried to oppose them by turning to media and legal system, until finally she was shot in broad daylight.
Well, anyway, what I have finally realized that the main reason for the blooming success of human trafficking and the pains and dangers of illegal immigration, the reason why women and even teenagers are forced into prostitution and porn industry, is simply – the State.
Prostitution as we know it – one of the ways of selling one’s body – became what it is now pretty much at dawn of civilization, when the ancient nations and states were formed, and the notion of state religion appeared. It is safe to assume that before these started to appear, prostitution as such was not known; for the sexual taboos and mores were local and not formalized, and so could not serve as a tool for governing whole nations. The so-called ‘civic prostitution’, which in reality was not more than the remainder of the matriarchal polyandric society, may seem as bizarre to us now as, say, ‘guest prostitution’. These, however, were much less all-encompassing and not as universal as the commercial or sacral prostitution which could – and did – appear only with the strengthening and the totaling of the state. A growing state in the ancient times had this in common with modern authoritarian and totalitarian ones: it did not view its people, its citizens, as free men and women; it preferred them broken and controlled; and it used then, just as it does now, political and religious bureaucracy to get there.
Let us now consider the claim that prostitution is a part of a capitalist society, and that only in such society can the adult industry and the criminal markets grow. This is what I would call an illusion of truth, brought on by a very shallow and superficial understanding of the role of the state, the functioning of the market and the processes taking place during the transition period from planned (socialistic) economy to a market-based (capitalistic) one.
Analyzing the reasons for complaints against the privatization process in post-communist countries, Simeon Djankov says in his “Great Rebirth”: “the gang leaders who grew rich off prostitution, drug trafficking, weapon trafficking, cars theft and protection racket became rich and legal by laundering their money during the privatization”*. In fact, it is the corruption of the socialist states and the dominance of the secret police (whose side business it was to organize and take over the criminal community, including but not limited to drug and human trafficking) that made the above possible. A regular citizen, however, would be hard pressed to see this, because he is more likely to use his heart, not his brain, to wax nostalgic about the ‘good old times’, and to blame the freedom economy which replaced their precious ‘stability’.
In prostitution the situation is rather similar. With the fall of the Soviet Union lots of Russian women were drawn into this profession, which created a sort of erroneous cognitive association between the two: the growth of prostitution and the liberation of economy. However, decades before that happened, Ludwig von Mises wrote as follows: “Prostitution is quite possibly one of the most ancient human contrivances. Thus, we would not be wrong in suggesting that it is a legacy of the dark, tribal age, rather than a product of an enlightened one. (…) The private property economy has nothing to do with this phenomenon. (…) Our sex-related issues are rooted in superstition. Thus, when we are studying the relation, if any, between prostitution and private property, we should be very strict in our definitions and clarify them to the utmost. One cannot analyze something as complex as society or economics in terms of some lost paradise, of phantoms and illusions”**.
The puritan, state-controlled, totalitarian culture began to crumble even before the fall of USSR. The movie producers, the journalists and the writers gradually stopped glorifying the system and extolling its successes, and some hard truths about the prostitution, informal organizations, youth problems and drugs began to trickle down into the mass consciousness. The system, which successfully hid these issues behind the pseudo-paradise of socialism, was no longer strong enough to keep this up. In other words, the problems were there, but the hard soviet censorship did not allow them to come to light. One could hardly think of USSR as a capitalist state, and prostitution as occupation was strictly illegal. Which is not the same as to say it did not exist. It did – and it was under full control of the police and the KGB. When in the 90s the state cracked, crumbled and fell, the censorship and the iron curtain disappeared, and the Russian adult industry was suddenly exposed. This created the cognitive error I mentioned above: blaming the coming of capitalism for ‘forcing’ women into prostitution. In order to overcome this error we should consider the phenomenon in its totality, as a dynamic process, not just its behavior under the current economic conditions. In particular, we should pay attention to the socio-cultural conditions under which the current prostitutes grew and were educated as children and teenagers; whether or not the educational system is unified and state-controlled; how strongly is the state propaganda rooted in the tradition; and so on.
Wherever there is talk about ‘forcing’ women into prostitution, whether the means are physical (violence) or indirect (economic coercion, blocking other ways of making a living), the first suspect should always be the state.
Firstly, it is the strongest, the most encompassing player; unlike business or private organizations, it has on its side the totality of authority. All its decrees are absolute, it can impose its will on anyone. It can disband organizations and throw businessmen in jail or out of the country, whereas no private businessmen or independent organizations can disband the government or put it in jail.
Secondly, it can regulate the market, clumsily creating unemployment or stealthily manipulating the economy in such a way that there is no alternative for an honest worker but to be fully dependent on the state giveouts. The result is a degenerate arrangement not unlike the one currently existing in Argentina or Venezuela, also reminiscent of Russia of the beginning of the millennium: the system where the money received by the people is fully disconnected from the work they do or do not perform. This is achieved either via some overcomplicated social welfare system, which seems to take care of the poor, while in reality allows people not to work; or by creating phony jobs, which seems to reduce the unemployment, while in reality, again, allows people not to work.
Finally, any state, by its own nature and inclination, strives to achieve monopoly in all and any areas which it is allowed to penetrate. One of the simplest way to do this is by direct nationalization and barring any competition from entering the field. Once it has monopoly over the area, the state can shape it to its inept and blundering liking.
In addition to monopolizing the market the state creates various criminal structures and, through them, achieves much more effective control mechanisms resulting in greater profits. Here are a few examples.
Buying a gun for personal use in the 19th century was a simple and straightforward procedure throughout the civilized world. (It is also worth noting, as an interesting aside, that there were almost no serial killers or rage shooters at that time; it is not healthy to carry out such an attack in a society where people are used to going around armed). Nowadays there are almost no countries where you can simply come into a shop and buy a gun. On the other hand, there is a vast black market for firearms.
In the 19th and even early 20th century one could come into a chemist’s shop or a drugstore and buy cocaine or opium over the counter; marijuana was available and widespread too. The drug-awareness hysterics of the second half of the 20th century resulted in the appearance of a huge black market for drug trafficking; of terrorist organizations profiting from it; of vast, obviously inefficient, state organizations, bureaucrats, secret services etc. benefiting from its existence. How did that happen? To answer this, riddle yourself as follows: how come a kilo of heroin costs $1000 in Afghanistan, twice that much on the Tajik-Afghan border, 70 times that much in Russia and $100000 (that’s one hundred thousand dollars) in Western Europe? The answer to both questions is simple: the criminalization of heroin. It is not available on the legal market, thus forcing the people who want to buy it to pay almost any money for a dose.
Declaring anything to be illegal is a great way to inflate its price. No state or state-sponsored organization would fail to benefit from this. And only the state has the ability to pass laws which declare things as legal or illegal.
So let’s get back to our original topic: prostitution. It can be a very lucrative business and therefore quite attractive to the state. At first, it had been nationalized and merged with the official religion. Thus appeared the temple, or sacral, prostitution, for instance in Ancient Greece, India, etc. The women were employed by the temple officials to ‘service’ the pilgrims and increase the temple’s profits. Percentage of these profits went to the state which grew rich. With the advance of Christianity the religion became more and more strict and unified; and prostitution, vilified by Christianity, was outlawed. This, mark you, is not at all the same as saying it disappeared. The state profits actually increased as the result. On the other hand, a vast network of underground brothels spread throughout Europe. On the other, pagan female prisoners were forced into sex slavery. The state bureaucracy and the police grew fat off bribes.
Time passed; in our modern and humane age other, less conspicuous methods are required. The state changed its methods and replaced its overt hostility with more subtle distaste. A prostitute is no longer considered less than human, oh no. But she is considered improper. The whole subject is discussed but rarely and reluctantly. As a result, nothing has truly changed – prostitution as a whole remains under an indirect control of the authorities, and no one wants to touch the issue with a 15-foot pole.
When I came that far in my analysis, I realized yet another thing. The adult industry will remain a problem for as long as the state exists and attempts to control economy and, more importantly, the human mind. It may change its tactics but the goal remains the same: strangling the free market and building its own monopolies. It will keep marginalizing various society classes and strata: whether these are called the class enemies, the bourgeoisie, Jews, infidels, fallen women or something else, the very existence of the state demands the existence of the inner ghettos against which the populace as a whole can be mobilized. And it will use this process again and again to persuade its citizen of the absolute necessity of total state control over as many aspects of life as possible.
Kitty Sanders, 2015
* “The Great Rebirth: Lessons from the Victory of Captialism over Communism”; Institute for International Economics,U.S. (October 29, 2014)
** “Individo, mercato e Stao di diritto”; Dario Antiseri, Massimo Baldini eds., Rubbettino. 1998