Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On their backs and against the wall.

Before founding SAGE in 1993, Norma Hotaling was a homeless, heroin-addicted prostitute for eight years. She is determined to help other women and men leave prostitution and addiction behind, and find their lives off the streets. SAGE also offers classes and counseling for first time offenders who are cited for solicitation.

Fred Dodsworth: Should prostitution be legalized?
Norma Hotaling: Research shows that when you have an adult sex industry, you have a natural progression to child prostitution. It's very crucial we talk about that.
Another thing is the domestic violence movement has analyzed itself after twenty years and found that women were still being killed at the same rate as when they started it. They had this whole building of infrastructure -- safe houses, hot lines, better response by police, etc. and women were still being killed at the same rate.

Dodsworth: Why?
Hotaling: We haven't been working with men. Big duh. We've been doing everything to protect the women, but we haven't looked at men -- the socialization of men.
There were many factors that led towards violence towards women. One of those things is a man's expectation of service… Anything. Be on time. Be here. Be isolated. Give up your mother.
So the conflict is, on one hand, we have domestic violence where we really need to know how men are socialized and how we teach them to expect service. On the other hand, we have the discussion on the legalization of prostitution, where it's okay to expect service. What ever you want. If you're a little horny, OK expect service. You're a little angry, expect service. You're getting older, expect service. You don't like the way your wife treats you, you can expect service.

Dodsworth: If they can afford it.
Hotaling: All you need is $5. It's not just men who have a lot of money — it's women being economically deprived and men figuring out how little they can offer. In Amsterdam, the women in the windows are not making a lot of money. I've been there. They're not making any more money than the women on Capp St.

Dodsworth: Does a woman ever consciously chose to be a prostitute?
Hotaling: Some women say that they do but I think the number of women who have such limited options, that number is much greater, because of the economic and political structure that women have to operate under.

Dodsworth: Do you think sexism is institutionalized?
Hotaling: Absolutely. I work with customers of prostitutes a lot. It's a problem when men that are governing the political and economic structure that women have to operate in are customers of prostitutes, are tricks.
Dick Morris and his involvement in the Clinton administration is a perfect example. Remember the Welfare to Work Act? It was right before the Democratic convention and Dick Morris was saying to the president, "Pass this bill. It'll get you elected." The rest of his staff split with him over this issue. They said don't do this, it will hurt women and girls. So here you have a trick, a john, a customer of prostitutes saying it doesn't matter if it's going to hurt women and girls. They're only there to help you get elected and so use them for that.

Dodsworth: Are you saying Welfare to Work drives women into prostitution?
Hotaling: Welfare to Work drives women into prostitution. Work. It's just work. It's just a job. Nobody has come up and said, "Wait a minute. How does that affect our communities of color?" Prostitution thrives, thrives on poor, vulnerable women and girls, communities of color that have been isolated from the mainstream society -- bad education, racism. Prostitution, it's just work.

Dodsworth: Is this only an issue in communities of color?
Hotaling: The men in my program, when I ask them to describe their perfect prostitute, tell me bond, blue-eyed, white and young.

Dodsworth: How young?
Hotaling: Well, they're not going to tell me in the class that it's 15 and 16. But what they do tell me is they know if they continue in prostitution that they are prone to go with children.
I've had over 5,000 men in my classes that I've had a chance to sit and talk to for eight hours at a time. We talk about what kind of issues you bring to prostitution. We did an interview project with 260 customers. What's the best part about sex with a prostitute? ONE MAN said sex, said a blowjob.
The rest of them? The hunt. Nobody to nag me. It fits in with my job schedule. All these things about disconnection and hunting human beings.
So when I ask them, what do you bring to the table? "I'm lonely." OK, do youyou're your loneliness met in prostitution? "No." Why? "Because she doesn't really like me." No, she doesn't. "She doesn't know me." No, she doesn't. "She's lying to me." Yes, it's a hustle.

Dodsworth: They don't know this going in?
Hotaling: I think they really do know it. I would hope they know it. My God. What would that say for the men of the world?

Dodsworth: That would say that men see all women as exactly the same.
Hotaling: Or it's, "Oh I'll pay her and pretend she's 18 even though she looks like she's 15." "She's blonde." Bleached. "I want her to say she likes me." Ok, she says she likes you. "I want her to smile." Ok, she smiles. "I want her to call me Daddy." OK, that happens.

Dodsworth: Are you saying we're all tricks?
Hotaling: I am saying that we collude with the whole structure that moves women into prostitution and exploitation. We collude with women not really having equal access. We collude with society that says women have to be nice, have to be sweet, have to say that they like men, have to serve men whenever men want them too. And that men deserve all of that and more. We all collude with that.

Dodsworth: What do women deserve?
Hotaling: Women deserve to be equals. Women deserve to have their human rights. Women deserve not to be hurt and exploited and not have violence. Women deserve to have equal access to education and vocational training and economic security, as men do. Women deserve to be mothers. Women deserve to have families.
The women and girls that SAGE works with have had their human rights raped and beaten away from them, starting in early childhood.
And then on top of it, we have the discussion of legalization and decriminalization. It gets condensed into that. That makes me furious. It doesn't get condensed into, "How can we help women and girls be whole again?" Not whole, but whole again. Or for the first time. Because the women and girls I work with never had a chance.
This is not rehabilitation. This is habilitation. When they get raped as children, they don't study the same way as other girls. And when they can't sit in their chair in the first grade or the second grade or the third grade, people that should know better start telling them that they're the problem. And that just creates a whole movement right into being vulnerable to prostitution. Men in our society are not caretakers anymore. They are exploiters.

Dodsworth: What does that say about all women?
Hotaling: That's our background to follow our husbands. Be nice to men. To support them.

Dodsworth: Is the world big enough for men and women to be equal?
Hotaling: I think it's absolutely big enough but people need to be uncompromising in their belief about women.
Society has said there are people that we can just throw away. I was almost there. I was created to be a prostitute. I was created to be a drug addict. Human hands molded me, day by day in my life, and moved me right down that path. And society moved in, and stood by those people and said, "Yes, she is a bad person. She deserves it."
What is it about the human condition that makes it ok to judge and treat human beings the way that we do? Who's saying, "Whoa!"?

On the web: http://www.sageinc.org/

©April 12, 2010 Fred Dodsworth (originally written June 16, 2001)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred, can you explain to me why these ideas are so difficult for many men to comprehend? Men will say (about prostitutes or 'exotic' dancers) "they make a ton of money; no problem, some of them are working their way through college." If I ask a man, who partakes of such activities, would you want this for your daughter?, he will act as if I have just asked him to chew used gum found under a table. His daughter is different. Are not these women daughters too?
shari b

7:15 AM  
Blogger Fred Dodsworth said...

Shari, be cause we are taught that sex is an object of commerce, both in the public and the private sector. Because we are taught that it's special and must not be shared except in the most ritualized of circumstances, that it is not a normal desire, that it demeans women, that men are animals incapable of resisting their sexual impulses and many other cultural lies.

8:21 PM  

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